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With voting exhibit, Capitol Museum aims to increase participation

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PHOENIX – In 1912, the year Arizona became a state, voters would slide their ballots into a slot atop this locking metal voting box, a relic now under glass in the old State Capitol.

Across the room is a machine from the 1930s that required people to flip switches to register their votes after pulling a lever to close the curtains.

For those living in an era of mail-in ballots and scanners at polling places, a new Arizona Capitol Museum exhibit showing how people voted in the past versus how it works today is a way to better appreciate the importance of taking part in the political process, Secretary of State Ken Bennett said.

“It’s all about how Arizonans choose their leaders and even make decisions of their own,” Bennett said. “Arizona is one of the unique states that allows the voters to actually vote on laws, initiatives and referendums, recall elected officials, and that has been such an important part of Arizona history.”

Voting technology new and old is showcased in the exhibit, titled “Your Vote, Your Voice, Your Government, Your Choice,” which opens Saturday, Sept. 13.

The exhibit’s four rooms also feature old campaign signs, ballots and informational cards. In one room, visitors can create their own campaign by drawing signs, creating slogans and standing behind a podium to give speeches.

Bennett said the opening is especially timely because only 27 percent of Arizona’s 3.2 million registered voters took part in last month’s primary.

“We thought it was important to highlight the importance of voting and that your vote is your voice,” he said.

Luke Bate, assistant director of the Arizona Capitol Museum, said the exhibit aims to help people understand that government isn’t separate from the governed.

“We are our own government,” he said.

Each of the four rooms is themed to display artifacts that play different parts in the history of the Arizona government. There is a secretary of state room, an accessibility voting in early statehood room, running for office in Territorial Arizona room and a “Vote Now” room.

The secretary of state room, a replica of the Secretary of State’s Office once located in the old Capitol, contains a desk and a jet-black safe that once secured ballots. The safe stands tall in a corner next to two red boxing glove signs that describe the 1916 election in which George W.P. Hunt won re-election as governor against Thomas Edward Campbell.

Another room is full of election and voting materials. A glass case full of campaign buttons is next to another holding materials such as a faux straw hat touting the candidacy of former Gov. Bruce Babbitt and a campaign poster for former Gov. Benjamin B. Moeur.

The next room contains a touchscreen that helps visitors determine which legislative district they live in and which candidates are running in this year’s election.

The last room, with rows of black folding chairs, allows visitors create their own campaigns and get elected to office, at least for a moment.

A microphone connected to a podium bearing a sign blaring “Vote for me!” allows visitors to create and record their own speeches to share via social media.

Bate, who came up with the idea nearly four years ago, said he’s excited to share the artifacts with all ages and hopes that the experience encourages people to take part in the political process.

“It’s not going to happen unless they make it happen,” he said. “It’s whether they’re just going to get involved as a voter and express their opinion or if they’re going to get involved in a much deeper level and run for office themselves.”