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The space available for the body to take up in most voting booths, moreover, is fairly narrow, signaling that voting is an act designed for those who can fit themselves into measurable civic space.But the plastic private voting booth of today is a far cry from the scenes and structures of voting for much of US history.The voting booth, understood as a site where some might form regular habits of use relative to others, belongs to the physical infrastructure of citizenship.
Citizenship is fundamentally a spatial relationship, naming in its broadest conception one’s ability to participate in the civic life of their locale.
And yet, as literary critic Lauren Berlant insists, citizenship is best understood not as one form of sovereignty but as a collection (or perhaps a collision) of many different relational forms, pointing to the “constellation of rights, laws, obligations, interests, fantasies, and expectations that shape the modern scene of citizenship.” Combining Benjamin’s and Berlant’s insights, it could be said that architecture shapes the habits of both citizenship.
The scale of the booth marks voting as the work of private individuals, presenting it as an act you do alone—for yourself and by yourself.
The material experience of these spaces can be somewhat awkward—the flimsiness of the booth’s construction makes you feel its impermanency, which may variously serve to heighten the distinctiveness of the occasion or mark its formal abnormality.
The process of voting begins for most by traveling to an assigned polling station, where one proceeds to cordon herself off from the civic space she has just entered and reckon with a ballot containing names of people the voter has generally never met.
The booth separates the voter from the general public as she seeks a more abstract form of intimacy with the group.Before the second half of the nineteenth century, voting was a noisy and viscerally public affair where watching others voice their decisions was part of the process.The point was to be in public and occupy civic space rather than to portion it off for individual contemplation.These temporary structures are typically set up inside of other forms of architecture, being lined up in rows once or twice a year within local civic spaces such as firehouses, elementary school gymnasiums, or open apartment building lobbies.Their purpose is to carve out private space within larger public spaces.They are typically constructed of flimsy plastic and perched on tall aluminum legs, offering users just enough stability to be able to scratch a line on a paper ballot or to press a button.Some booths allow users to slide a small curtain closed behind them, more fully producing the sensation of sequester privileged by modern voting.The booth Holley presents viewers in the gallery space seems at first glance like any other—a simple plastic and aluminum structure that one would bend down and lean into in order to fill out a ballot semi-privately.However, if you stand back from the booth or approach it from the right side, you notice that when the user bends down to use the booth, their head becomes level with the muzzle of a handgun affixed to the outside of the booth and pointed directly into its interior.Holley describes as providing viewers with a stark reminder of how un-habitual the process of voting has been for many in the US.Commemorating “those that got killed along the way, literally got blown to pieces” in seeking the vote, Holley describes “the trail to vote” as simultaneously “a trail of tears.” To be in the grip of power, Holley’s work suggests, is to potentially inhabit a position of power and agency, but it can also mean being at the mercy of another.