The History of MITvote’s mascot: Vote-a-saurus
If you’re familiar with civic engagement at MIT, then you probably already know its larger-than-life mascot. Even for those unfamiliar or new to campus, it’s hard to miss Vote-a-saurus… a 6-ft-high inflatable dinosaur that’s been present at nearly every campus voting event since early 2018. Attention grabbing and fun, to say the least, Vote-a-saurus plays an even bigger role than most of us realize. The PKG Center sat down with members of MITvote past and present to get the scoop on MIT’s prehistoric voting champion.
“The original idea was for a ‘vote boat’,” says Sarah Powazek, MIT class of 2020 and former undergraduate co-chair of MITvote. “My thought was that we could get one of the Duck Boats from Boston to park somewhere on campus, and then we realized that that was totally infeasible.” So, the group shifted. What could grab the attention of busy MIT students? What kind of display could help MITvote, a then independent club far less known than it is today, get the word out about the importance of voting and voter registration? “We were spitballing about what else we could do to still get ‘vote’ in the word and have some cool visual to get in peoples’ faces,” Powazek continues.
Thus, Vote-a-saurus was born. What started as an inside joke quickly became a reality, as the MITvote team started researching where they could find themselves a dinosaur. With the help of their newly appointed advisor, Danny Becker of the PKG Center, they eventually landed on what would become the group’s famed companion. “The debut was the Get Out the Vote Festival on Election Day 2018,” says Seamus Lombardo, a current PhD student at MIT and graduate co-chair of MITvote. “We had an arts and crafts session the day before, where we were trying to pump out as much promotional material as we could. I remember making a giant nametag for the side of the dinosaur that read, ‘Hello my name is: Vote-a-saurus.’ And then, the day after the festival, that was on the front page of the Tech, which is like a cool historical document now.”
Since those early days, Vote-a-saurus has grown in fame at MIT. Lombardo says he sometimes gets stopped because people recognize him as the dinosaur voting guy. “Campus Preview Weekend (CPW) 2019 MITvote got a booth in Lobby 10,” says Kelsey Merrill, MIT class of 2021 and undergraduate co-chair of MITvote. This was Vote-a-saurus’ second big event. “We really leaned into the dino theme. We got a ton of dino chicken nuggets. Dino gummies. He really became a big part of what we did and how people could recognize us. ” To engage passersby, MITvote came up with dinosaur trivia as conversation starters. You could either register to vote, or if you were an international student or maybe you had already registered, you could answer a bit of trivia to earn some dino snacks on your way across campus.
From spring of 2019 to when COVID-19 hit the U.S., Vote-a-saurus continued to be an MITvote staple. “What attests to his value,” Lombardo adds, “is that he’s really not that easy to move around or store. Many MITvote members have lugged him across campus. But we did it for every single event. We truly felt that it would have measurable impact on the event, if Vote-a-saurus was a part of it.” Before the group was recognized by the Association of Student Activities (ASA) at MIT and got their own official locker space, the dinosaur even made it to different MIT dorm rooms and apartments, couch surfing with various MITvote members.
With pandemic shutdowns, much of MITvote efforts shifted online for the 2020 election cycle. And while Vote-a-saurus hasn’t been able to greet students in Lobby 10 since early March, MITvote has nonetheless made him a big part of their branding and outreach efforts, from custom Zoom backgrounds, to Vote-a-saurus “siblings” mailed out to civically engaged MIT faculty and staff.
“As his fame has grown, he’s definitely been embraced by the broader MIT community,” Lombardo says. “We’ve been mailing ‘siblings’ [miniature inflatable dinosaurs] to professors, who want a set piece to have for their Zoom classes to promote voting this year.” There has also been a big effort to maintain a presence and reach students on campus, which came by way of a QR code projected on the windows of the MIT Museum. Alongside the code: a Vote-a-saurus graphic. When scanned, the code takes viewers directly to Vote411, a platform for users looking to get accurate and up-to-date information about the mechanics of voting across the states.
“I’ll add one more thing,” Powazek says. “He’s a big hit with kids. And I think that says a lot. Vote-a-saurus contributes to this fun and open atmosphere on the MIT campus, which is also at the heart of MITvote. We’re just trying to engage everybody, without judgment about what their political beliefs are. I think that Vote-a-saurus kind of represents that, too.”
Despite being a little worse for wear two years on, including an unidentifiable leak MITvote members constantly ward off with a tried-and-true air mattress pump, Vote-a-saurus has become one of MIT’s most resilient voting champions. He’s become a symbol for civic engagement, a kind of landmark for campus voting events, and a warm welcome to new voters across party lines.
With the official election date just days away, MITvote encourages everyone at MIT to participate. Make a voting plan. Make sure your voice is heard. And if you need help along the way, Vote-a-saurus (alongside his human coworkers) is just a click away. Visit mitvote.mit.edu to learn how to cast your ballot. Already voted? Check out the updated MITvote Zoom backgrounds (below) to celebrate casting your ballot!
Tags: Civic Engagement, Election2020, MITvote, Voting