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electionlineWeekly--August 11, 2011

Table of Contents

I. In Focus This Week

Stuck on you
Voters approve of “I Voted” stickers

 By M. Mindy Moretti

Whether Democrat, Republican, Green or Independent, male or female, young or old, for or against a proposition, one thing for which most voters seem to have a common affection is the “I Voted” sticker they receive after casting a ballot.



Although not nearly as iconic as a purple stained finger, “I Voted” stickers invoke a certain passion in voters; though where this passion for a temporary piece of paper comes from is a bit hard to pinpoint.

My best guess -- and it is only a guess -- is that it relates to civic duty.  Voting is considered a civic duty even by some of those who do not vote. The census reports on voter turnout caution their numbers may be high because a significant number of non-voters say they voted rather than admit they neglected their duty.  So my best answer is that some voters want to let the world know that they performed their duty,” explained Dr. Richard Smolka, professor emeritus at The American University and founder of Election Administration Reports.

The history of the “I Voted” sticker is a bit hazy, but some elections historians point to the 1980s as the possible timeline for their introduction and one company online claims that they created the original “I Voted” stickers in 1986.

According to Alex Keyssar, the Mathew W. Stirling, Jr. professor of history and social policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, as far back as the 19th Century people used to stay in the polling places for hours after they had already voted—thus proving to everyone that they had cast their ballot.

And “I Voted” stickers aren’t just used to let the world know that a voter has cast their ballot. In some places the stickers are a gateway to lots of free stuff. Many businesses give away free food and drink to voters sporting an “I Voted” sticker on election-day.

The Ohio secretary of state’s office recently held a contest to design a new “I Voted” sticker to be distributed to the state’s 88 counties. Nearly 60,000 Buckeyes cast their ballot for their sticker of choice and the winning sticker was a play on “I Love Voting” with an outline of the state of Ohio replacing the traditional heart.

“While voting is serious business, selecting our state’s next “I Voted Today” sticker provided an outreach opportunity to get both younger and older Ohioans excited about the voting process,” Secretary of State Jon Husted said in a statement when the results were announced.. “The Election Day sticker is worn as a badge of honor by many and I wanted Ohioans to have the chance to voice their opinion and help pick our new design.”

The stickers will first be distributed for the November 2011 election. According to the secretary of state’s office, for the 2010 general election, the state issued 4.2 million stickers at a cost of approximately $29,000. The secretary of state’s office has looked at ways to bring down the overall printing costs for the office, but determined that it would continue to provide the voting stickers because “it’s a tradition that promotes civic engagement at a relatively small price.”

“Why are people excited about getting their “I Voted Today” sticker? It’s funny, I’ve talked to some board of elections members and poll workers who have said it would make their job harder if we didn’t have the sticker,” said Maggie Ostrowski a spokesperson for the secretary of state’s office. “Voters in Ohio definitely ask for them when they finish voting. They wear them as a badge of honor on Election Day that they exercised their right to vote and participated in our democracy. It’s a small gesture, but it means a lot to them to wear it proudly and see fellow citizens wearing them too.”

While the state of Ohio is spending creating contests and spending money on stickers, for some localities with tight budgets cutting the “I Voted” stickers seems like the first logical step.

When releasing its 2012 elections budget, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics proposed the distribution of the “I Voted” stickers and Internet commentators were none-too-pleased.

Morris County, NJ recently eliminated the distribution of “I Voted” stickers in an effort to save the county approximately $800 per year.

“We thought it was a nice thing to do, so people would feel good about voting. But we can’t afford them,” John Sette, chairman of the county’s board of elections told The Star-Ledger. The county had been distributing the stickers for about five years.

While some counties may be cutting “I Voted” stickers, others are going out of their way to provide them to voters — even if those voters cast their ballot by mail.

Pierce County, Wash., which fought becoming a vote-by-mail county till the bitter end, will still provide “I Voted” stickers to county voters. In the official Pierce County voter’s guide, Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson wrote:

“We know you love the “I Voted” sticker. Thousands wear it proudly, as a reminder to others. Well, we’ve found a way to include the stickers in your Voters’ Pamphlet. And this way, you can wear “I Voted” at any time during the election period. In fact, we hope you will. Pierce County voter participation is the lowest in the state. Help us remind everyone of this important civic duty”

Reporter’s Note: During the recent special election in Washington, D.C. my polling place did not have any “I Voted” stickers so I visited another polling location, explained the situation to the very nice poll worker who was more than willing to part with a sticker. Why did I want one badly enough to visit another polling place in search of one? Like so much in life, it’s complicated. For one, I was working with a candidate and wanted to put the “I Voted” sticker on my bag next to the campaign sticker. For another I wanted to show my fellow Washingtonians that I’d made the effort to get out and vote in the low-turnout special election. And for another it’s just something that I felt I needed to do, whether I worked for electionline or not.