The plate debate

Illinois license plates have arrived, and they’re already sparking debate.

Have you seen them yet?

While other drivers represent their states by sporting a beautiful desert sunset (Arizona), a bright orange plant (Florida), or a clean mountain silhouette (Colorado), Illinois’ design might be a little harder to identify at first glance. Or even second or third.

The image doesn’t differ dramatically from our most recent plate picture, but there are some distinct changes. The new scene features a washed-out white and blue skyline backdrop along with a looming half-Lincoln silhouette crammed in the left corner. The letters and numbers appear across this image in a bright red font. The Chicago Tribune Editorial Board called it a “mashup of indiscernible clipart,” and some say that the left-hand Lincoln image partially obscures the first letter on the plate (although the state says it’s working on a redesign to remedy that problem).

The state unveiled the new look in November of 2016, and the plates first appeared on cars in January of this year. But what was wrong with the previous Lincoln logo?

According to the Secretary of State Jesse White, the old license plates had begun to rust due to a manufacturing error. The problem was that the reflective paint did not mesh well with the aluminum plates. This has caused many of the plates to rust away.

Over time, the state will eventually replace all existing Illinois license plates with the new design.

According to White, the new plate update program will work within the budget and will ensure that no plates will be older than 10 years at any given time.

How will this work?

Each year, plates from the past will be replaced with the new ones, free of charge. This year, car owners with plates from 2000 and 2001 will receive the new design. The plan will continue on this path until 2027, when the replacement process will begin all over again. This gradual replacement will cut costs.

As an avid license-plate noticer, I will admit that I, too, was a little disappointed in the new plate graphics. I couldn’t really imagine how they created it. I pictured a small gathering of state employees collaborating until the design reflected a less-than impressive compromise of everyone’s ideas. Then I researched the art history of other states’ plates. Pennsylvania’s plate is white with a blue stripe on top and a yellow strip across the bottom. Is it fair to say we’re not the worst?

I think one of the most interesting license plates belongs to Washington D.C. The plate is red, white, and blue, and features the tagline “taxation without representation.” While at first glance this seems like a throwback to a Revolutionary War sentiment, it actually references the fact that D.C. residents must pay federal income taxes but cannot vote for a representative in congress.

Another interesting fact is that some states offer standard issue slogans and optional versions. For instance, in Michigan, the standard tagline reads “Pure Michigan,” but offers the slogans “Spectacular Peninsulas” or “The Mackinac Bridge” instead.

Despite the controversy, I don’t know how I would have designed the plate if given the chance. If license plate aesthetics fall to the wayside of more pressing governing issues, then I am totally on board.

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