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Your Vote Is Your Voice

By Megan Williams, New York creative director

In late June 2012, when the National Urban League approached Draftfcb about creating aPSA campaign to inform the voting public about significant changes in voting laws -- specifically new Voter ID laws introduced in 22 states -- I don’t think any of us at the agency could foresee that these laws would soon be a key political issue in the 2012 Presidential Election. I certainly didn’t.
Our assignment was to create a campaign that would inform voters about new legal requirements for voter eligibility. But as my partner, copywriter Kim Healy, and I began to concept on the assignment, we quickly realized that the project ran deeper than a change in a law. To deliver a compelling campaign about voting requirements, we’d need to understand and convey the significance of voting rights in America. We needed to understand the history to effectively communicate about the present.
I grew up in Colorado, in a family deeply involved in state and local politics. My political education included classroom education on the Boston Tea Party’s “No Taxation without Representation,” Jim Crow laws of the Reconstruction South, and the women’s suffragist movement, as well as significant political debate around the dining room table. But in researching for this assignment, I was surprised to learn how many groups of Americans have experienced voter suppression in our Nation’s history: Non-landowners, the illiterate, African-Americans, Irish-Americans, Native-Americans, Catholics, women, the poor and the elderly.
In addition to outright exclusion from voting, influencing election outcomes has also occurred throughgerrymandering, voter intimidation, poll taxes as well as impeding voter registration, and through distribution of disinformation on voting procedures – including locations and times of elections.  
In my mind, these practices belonged to history books – part of America’s past – and something we, as a country, had moved beyond in the years following the Civil Rights movement, integration, affirmative action, and a broadening social acceptance of all people. But my research into the Voter ID laws introduced in many states left me with a vastly different perspective.
The new State Voter ID Laws, and the controversy that surrounds them, have quickly become a broadly discussed, and highly contested, partisan issue in the build-up to November’s election. This New York Times article onVoter ID Laws does a good job describing both sides of the heated issue.
By their own definition, our client, the National Urban League is “a historic civil rights organization dedicated to economic empowerment in order to elevate the standard of living in historically underserved urban communities.” In more common terms, the NUL dedicates its efforts to the advancement and empowerment of African-Americans and people of color, they champion our country’s underprivileged, as well as work to ensure the civil rights of all Americans. Like voting rights.
During the process of creating our campaign, what I admired and respected most about our NUL clients is that their motivation was never to influence the decision of voters, but simply to ensure each American who is eligible to vote, is able to vote. To inform those most likely affected by the changing laws: the elderly, students, the poor and yes, people of color as well, and to prepare them for the upcoming election, so that their voice may be heard.
Great men spoke out against inequality in governmental representation when our country declared its independence in 1776 with these words:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
But if it were up to me, I’d add in “and a fair fight.” If we, as Americans, genuinely believe in the principles of democracy – that everyone has a fair and equal say in the law of land - I want to believe that any elected official, regardless of political party, would relish their victory only through a fair and equal election. It’s the American way, and thankfully, the way the National Urban League strives for – a democracy for us all.