Where Does S.F. Department of Elections Get Those Wonderful Pictures For Voter Pamphlets? Would You Believe -- Flickr?

Categories: Government
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Thousands upon thousands of San Franciscans were greeted by Voter Information Pamphlets in their mail boxes this week. And yet -- as always -- the dread of a pending election featuring confusing ballot measures, the oft-bizarre arguments expended for and against them, and a handful of unopposed candidates was mitigated by the wonderful photography on the cover of the book.

I don't know about you, but the sight of that majestic seaplane soaring over the unfinished Golden Gate Bridge fills me with civic pride. I feel like rushing out to someone's dank garage and voting twice.

Inspiration to commit voter fraud aside, I was left wondering where San Francisco's Department of Elections gets those photos. So I placed a call to the department and got a hold of Barbara Carr in the publications department. Carr was that rare treasure journalists revel in discovering -- a woman who knew absolutely everything and was happy to share it.

That photo, it turns out, comes from Greg Young Publishing, an odd Santa Barbara company that seems to specialize in old time aerial photos and what appear to be hula-dancing kewpie dolls. The Department of Elections doesn't pay for these photographs, so it must have been donated gratis. And, interestingly enough, a San Francisco voter with an airplane obsession has since informed the department that the plane pictured above isn't the famed China Clipper M-130 Flying Boat as noted in the caption but a Sikorsky S-42. Substitute voter pamphlets will not be printed out, however.

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The image of San Francisco in 1852 that graced the Voter Information Pamphlet in November of '08 is also gracing this T-shirt!
Since the Department of Elections is authorized to pay as much for its cover photos as you do for a free sample of cheese at Costco, a favorite source of cover shots is Flickr.com's Creative Commons and other sites where amateur photographers post their snapshots. The May, 2009 cover shot was of a California Quail, snapped by Flickr user Lorcan Keating.

John Arntz, the director of the Department of Elections, simply enjoyed Keating's photo. But, on other occasions, subtle meanings can be ascribed to the shots Arntz chooses. In November of 2008, for example, Arntz selected an illustration of San Francisco in 1852 courtesy of the U.C. Berkeley Bancroft Library. That year, incidentally, was the first presidential election San Franciscans were entitled to vote in -- which Arntz thought fitting for a "historical presidential election."

In June of '08, Arntz picked a snapshot of the Cliff House posted on a Web site by photographer Lisa Long -- Carr notes that this was a safe pick for a cover shot because "there were no ballot measures related to The Richmond."

In April of 2008, a miniscule pamphlet was sent out for the special election to determine a successor to Rep. Tom Lantos. The cover shot was of the Sunset District -- the only portion of San Francisco Lantos (and, now, Jackie Speier) represented. That, too, was plucked from a Web site.

In February of 2008, the pamphlet was fronted by a cheerful photo of the Embarcadero skating rink. The photographer was Warren Tang, whom Carr believes is married to one of the department's employees. "We're always looking for free photos," she notes.

Carr listed voter pamphlets for us going back to 2005, and she did it from memory. We were impressed. We also now have the ambition to get our photos onto the cover of a San Francisco voter guide. And if you feel similarly, please send your shots of the city to me here (shots with people in them are discouraged). I will send along your shots to Carr.

Please remember to correctly identify all flying boats in your shots. That's a mistake you just can't make twice. 
 
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