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Public Voting Methods

Occasionally you will be at meetings where a large number of people are invited to provide input. This may be to decide which location the public prefers, on a design option, or to share your thoughts on the skatepark topic. Here are some ways that it’s commonly handled.

1. Sticker Dots

Sticker dots are a very common device that agencies use to measure public opinion on an issue, particularly when there are several options being considered. For example, a landscape architect might present three park designs at a public meeting. Each design is presented on a large board. Each direction will have different characteristics. One might have a large skatepark in the middle of the park surrounded by green space, another might have a small skatepark and two baseball fields, and so on. Everyone that attends the meeting will be given a sticker dot, and at some point in the meeting everyone will be invited to place their dot on the design they prefer. Everyone crowds around the boards and places their dots directly on them. When the crowd clears, one of the boards will have more dots than the others. The public has spoken! (This is one meeting where you’d want to pack the room with skaters.)

Meeting attendees are each provided with a few stickers to put next to the features that they'd most like to see included in the new public park. This is a common way to quantify public support when there are several options being considered.

Meeting attendees are each provided with a few stickers to put next to the features that they’d most like to see included in the new public park. This is a common way to quantify public support when there are several options being considered.

2. Table Groups

Some meetings have exercises where each table works as a separate group to discuss particular issue. This method is usually reserved for broader topics that require some dialog. For example, establishing budget priorities for a Parks Department might be a good topic for this format. Each table would write down the most important issues they see facing parks in the area. After 20 or 30 minutes, each table elects a spokesperson to quickly summarize their table’s priorities to the rest of the room. This allows conversations to occur without the whole room struggling to be heard. In a skatepark context, this format would be appropriate for establishing some design characteristics that the skateboarding community would like to see.

3. Ballot Sheets

Ballot sheets are short forms that the public is invited to fill out. These feedback forms are collected by the hosting group. Later, they are reviewed and summarized. This method is useful for topics and issues that may be controversial or inflammatory. It allows people to share their thoughts in a safe, discreet way. A format like this would be appropriate for gathering reasons why your community needs a skatepark, for example. (This format can be combined with some kind of giveaway to encourage more participation.)

There are ways to manipulate public voting. For example, an opportunity to vote on an important skatepark issue might be widely publicized among people likely to oppose the core group’s wishes, and under-publicize that event to groups that are likely to support the skatepark. This is very common, and it’s often not intentional. People that are engaged in city politics and community issues tend to be older… skateboarding-age people don’t usually attend Parks and City meetings unless there is an issue that specifically relates to them.

The result is that things like skateparks are voted on by people unlikely to ever use the facility. It’s critically important that you rally big numbers to attend any public meeting where skatepark matters will be voted on. This is one of your fundamental roles as a community organizer.