As America braces for an election that may be tainted by fraud, the Gap, Inc. deserves praise for veering away from a foolish promotional item that initially winked and nodded at multiple voting.
As part of its “Vote for ______” campaign, the Gap is decorating its locations with a civic-participation theme this month. T-shirts that read, “Vote for _______” are on offer, as are assorted buttons by various artists. Most display the word “vote” in an array of colorful patterns. One has the word “Vote” sandwiched between the word “Count” above and below it. Another button reads, “No Vote! No Love!” So far, so admirable.
But two Gap outlets on Broadway in Manhattan’s East Village also featured a button designed by John Waters, the legendary Baltimore filmmaker behind such hits as Cry Baby and Hairspray. His contribution offered very simple advice:
“Vote twice!” it insisted, in red, white, and blue.
Given the usual worries about ballot integrity, the FBI’s ongoing probe of ACORN for alleged voter-registration fraud, and at least 13 state-level investigations of ACORN, counseling people to cast more than one ballot would seem like a singularly inappropriate message to transmit just now.
“The ‘Vote Twice!’ button speaks to the importance of voting and is not meant to be taken literally,” Gap spokesperson Louise Callagy told me Friday afternoon from her San Francisco office. “We recognize and respect the uniqueness of individuals and their opinions and points of view,” she added. “Gap, Inc. does not endorse any individual candidate or point of view. It’s about self-expression.”
Callagy later explained the campaign in greater detail via e-mail.
Gap has a long history of supporting the arts, and we thought it would be interesting (as part of this campaign) to ask 10 renowned artists to create ‘Vote for’ buttons which are being sold in select stores. Almost 19,000 artist buttons were created, of which only 2,000 were the John Waters ‘Vote Twice’ creation. This is less than 12% of the entire collection, which is being sold in 100 out of 1140 Gap stores in the US. I hope this reassures you that it’s a very small piece of a much larger campaign all designed around self expression and encouraging people to vote.
Perhaps sensing a potential public-relations mess brewing just four days before the election, the Gap then did the right thing.
“We have made a decision to remove the remaining buttons from sale,” Callagy told me by phone Friday night. “We never intended to offend anyone. And, so no one else has a similar experience, we will remove the remaining buttons from sale. We made that decision today.”
Gap’s wise move may reflect a growing sense that vote fraud is not just another colorful, quirky aspect of American politics, like straw hats at party conventions or confetti trickling down on presidents-elect. This is a gravely serious crime that quietly disenfranchises voters today, avoiding only the violence that historically defined this practice.
Multiple voting is out of place in clothing stores. And — as one hopes will inspire universal vigilance on Tuesday — it has absolutely no place in voting booths, either.