Election Day countdown
The signs in Patty Schlafer's Mount Horeb lawn are fun plus factual. They tell those passing by how many more days until Election Day. This one is pays homage to the 45th president, with baby Trump memes incorporated into the image. (Photo provided by Patty Schlafer)

Mount Horeb woman creates an array of numeric nudges to go vote.

Back in the spring, retired teacher Patty Schlafer was listening to a podcast on the election when inspiration struck.

“They said, ‘We have 150 days to the election, what are you doing to get out the vote?’,’’ she recalled. “I thought, What can I do? I can start a countdown!’’

Years of trying to teach middle schoolers to play their band instruments made Schlafer a pro at “Gamification,” and she thought the long slog to Election Day could be brightened by hosting an amateur art show on her front lawn.

So on June 6, the first sign appeared in front of her home on Lake Street in Mount Horeb, reading only “150.”

Everyday after that, people on their way to Stewart County Park would pass a cryptic sign with a number. Many stopped to ask what it was about, and then they’d get a reminder on the upcoming election.

Some weeks, it wasn’t even clear it was a number at all, especially during theme weeks like “Roman numeral week,” when the sign read XCIX or during “math week,” when passersby had to puzzle out what “22×4=?” meant.

During “penmanship week,” Schlafer created large-scale penmanship paper familiar to elementary students, and wrote out the number in perfect copperplate longhand.

Soon, neighbors and friends wanted to pitch in. Of course, people called dibs on their favorite numbers. 

As fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy know, “42” is also the answer to “the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything,’’ so Paul Nesja adorned his sign on Sept. 21 with those phrases from the Douglas Adams science fiction classic.

Chicago Bears fan Chris Laabs made “34” a tribute to Walter Payton, known to fans as “Sweetness.”

When there were 34 days until Election Day, the sign in Schlafer’s yard paid tribute to the late Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton. (Photo provided by Patty Schlafer)

So far, no one has claimed Oct. 22, which is 12 days to the election and thus the perfect day to honor Green Bay Packers #12, Aaron Rodgers.

A few signs take some mulling over to understand. Thursday’s sign had multiple references to “33 to 46,’’ which Schlafer says refers to 33 days until our 46th president. 

For the most part, the signs have been apolitical, although on day 44, Schlafer put up her former colleague Kellen Dorner’s interpretation of the Shepard Fairey “Hope” poster to honor Barack Obama, the 44th president.

The day before, artist Vicki France depicted the baby Trump meme in a swirl of water, with the message “Flush 45.”

Schlafer said she stayed mostly nonpartisan until the incivility of the debate, which pushed her over the edge.

“I felt like a teacher walking into an out-of-control classroom,’’ says Schlafer, who taught music to a generation of Mount Horeb Middle School students. “We wouldn’t let 7th graders behave that way.”

Her Biden sign went up the day after the debate.

Her husband, Ward Hammond, is planning to build a free-standing wooden structure for one day to the election, which will also urge people to vote.

After the election, the couple is inviting friends and neighbors to a bonfire, where they’ll toss the signs into the flames. 

“I’m not hanging onto them,’’ she said. “I hope we never have to go through this again.”