Pittsburgh politicians launch campaign to keep voters abreast of "naked" ballot issue | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh politicians launch campaign to keep voters abreast of "naked" ballot issue

Courtesy of Bethany Hallam
When the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled on Sep. 17 that mail-in ballots would be rejected if received outside of their a secrecy envelope, it set off a panic about a potentially significant number of "naked" ballots that would not be counted in Pennsylvania, a crucial swing state. Allegheny County councilor Bethany Hallam (D-Ross) saw a flood of articles about "naked ballots," and she had an unconventional, and literal, idea to raise awareness about the issue.

On Sat., Sep. 26, Hallam launched a campaign on social media to raise awareness about mail-in voting protocols, featuring herself, as well as state Rep. candidate Emily Kinkead (D-North Side) and Allegheny County councilor Liv Bennett (D-North Side), topless, save for an image of ballot instructions covering their boobs.
"A lot of us ran for office together, a lot of us worked on each other's campaigns as volunteers, and so we talk a lot outside of politics," says Hallam. "And so it was really just texting people being like 'Hey I have this wild idea.'"

The image immediately drew attention on social media, especially after former Pennsylvania U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-Sewickley) retweeted the post, saying "And this is the crowd that thinks @RealDonaldTrump is vulgar? Really?"

After Rothfus shared it, criticism from the right-wing began pouring in. There were some expected criticisms, like calling the move inappropriate or degrading the politicians' bodies, as well as more unexpected jabs. Dozens of Twitter users began commenting and replying on the posting saying that it was evidence that the country needs to "repeal the 19th." As in the 19th Amendment to the constitution, which gave some women the right to vote.
"That was our favorite," says Hallam, noting that she and her colleagues laughed about the criticisms. "We have been texting back and forth about people getting so riled up over something that is helping them as well. A lot of the people who are hating on our decision to run this campaign are the same people who might've forgot their secrecy envelopes had it not been for this campaign."

Hallam notes that it's a non-partisan voter awareness campaign, and that she would welcome Republican colleagues who wanted to join in.

The campaign plans on releasing another round of "naked" images with local politicians tonight, with more planned in the coming days and weeks. So far, it's been almost all women politicians who have joined in the effort, despite the fact that there is greater risk for women posing in a provocative way online, as they are subjected to more body-shaming and sexist comments than their male colleagues — or any topless man in public — would be.

"That was kind of the whole point when folks were reaching out with negative feedback about this, like what are you seeing that you don't see when we have on a bikini, when you see women at the beach?" says Hallam. She feels that, in a political era when women's autonomy over their bodies are under attack, this is a way to take control.

Hallam says the campaign has already been a success, with the posts garnering one million impressions in 24 hours on social media. Several people commented to say that they weren't aware of the issue, or of the importance of carefully reading the mail-in ballot instructions. Even the critics and Twitter trolls are getting informed. The campaign is for them, too.

"Even if you're not a fan of the campaign we decided to do, we still want your vote to be counted," says Hallam. "And so that's totally okay whether you agree or disagree, as long as you are learning the process."

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