A Lesson in Politics: “I Voted”: The Sticker

NYC’s new “I VOTED” sticker

Yesterday was Primary Day in New York — which meant a fair number of people (far less than I would have liked) were walking around, proudly displaying the hallmark “I Voted!” sticker on their shirt. I’ve always been jealous of those people, because I have never gotten an “I Voted!” sticker. I have voted absentee for every election except one, single May primary my senior year of high school. Pennsylvania doesn’t mail stickers out with their ballots, so the best I can do on any Election Day is post an Instagram or Facebook status telling my peers that I did, in fact, vote.

All petty jealousy aside, the “I Voted!” sticker is a coveted badge of honor for those who take the time to go to the ballot box — but what is the history this Election Day ritual?

The history of the sticker is a bit unclear. While the Phoenix Association of Realtors claims to have invited the “I Voted!” sticker, there are documented instances of this type of sticker being used earlier than 1985. According to a TIME article published this past November, the earliest written reference to an “I Voted!” sticker comes from a Miami Herald article published on October 29, 1982. The article highlighted small businesses in Florida that were offering discounts to customers wearing one of these stickers on Election Day. In 1984, teachers unions began to offer stickers to members as a way of showing that you voted and to encourage colleagues to go vote, too.

What is the intent of the sticker? Today, the “I Voted!’ stickers are “part boast, part public-shaming tool, a way of aligning yourself with those who did their part and identifying those who didn’t.” It seems that the initial purpose — by organizations such as the Women League of Voters — was to encourage civic participation. An “I Voted!” sticker could be worn as a patriotic badge of honor, showing your peers, colleagues, and strangers on the street that you did your civic duty as a citizen of this country by going out to vote. Later, businesses began to encourage people to vote by offering discounts or giving away free items to patrons wearing a sticker… but technically, that is against the law (it’s viewed as corruption). Regardless, the intent is a badge of honor, one meant to show off that you, good citizen, completed your civic duty.

Does the “I Voted!” sticker actually work? In theory, humblebragging (or not-so-humblebragging, depending on the person) via a patriotic emblem (and it’s America, so we take any excuse to put the flag, USA, or use our colors on anything) that you stick to your clothing for the entirety of Election Day should nudge (or shame) non-voters into voting. Overtime, the design of the sticker has evolved to encourage folks by saying “I voted today — have you?”, “I voted today!”, “I’m a [insert state here] voter!”, and more. David Roos from how stuff works argues that the “I Voted!” stickers does increase voter turnout, citing a variety of studies that show a very slight increase from this peer pressure tactic. New York Magazine highlights a few studies that show people are conscious of how their voting behavior influences the opinions of others around them — some folks lie and say they voted out of fear of being judged for saying they did not, others may vote only because they know they will later be in a situation where they have to discuss their voting behaviors.

Yay social pressure!

The sticker has so much appeal that even Facebook has gotten involved. Starting in 2010, Facebook made the “I Voted!” sticker virtual. Clever as it tends to be, Facebook used this opportunity to conduct an experiment. Some folks had the “I Voted!” sticker show up on their profile after they said they voted, but others just had the status that said they voted. Facebook determined that when the sticker appeared on people’s profiles, their friends were more likely to click on it… which then brought them to a page that showed them information about how to vote. Facebook continued this practice (and the subtle experimenting) or this past presidential election, showing an “I Voted!” button on most folks’ feeds.

So… why is this relevant today, a particularly boring (in Trump adjusted terms) day for the election scene? Because 2018 is a big year — hell, 2017 is a big year for gubernatorial elections. We have to take back the House and the Senate and maintain a majority of governorships in the States. Midterm and other non-presidential elections are underappreciated and suffer from lack of participation — and we have to change that going forward. We have to come out to vote in DROVES AND HORDES AND MASSES. We have to put Trump’s inaugural crowd to SHAME from our polling places. We have to show that we care about righting our country and preserving our democracy.

What you can do now:

  1. Register to vote if you haven’t already. If you are registered, check your registration and make sure it’s up-to-date. Click here to find out how to register to vote.
  2. Pay it forward — tell at least one friend, family member, co-worker, anyone to register to vote or check up on their voter registration.
  3. Check to see if you have any local or state elections or primaries coming up soon. You can go to RockTheVote.Org’s page for information on elections and upcoming deadlines.
  4. And then figure out how you are going to vote. Are you going to the polls? Do you need to ask to leave work early or arrive late? Do you need to request an absentee ballot?
  5. Learn more about candidates running in upcoming elections (Ballotpedia is a great resource for this). Do research on your local politics, find a town hall to attend, and donate to folks who are facing primaries sooner rather than later. Volunteer with campaigns. Look into working at polling locations on Election Day. Do something.
  6. In 2017, there are SEVEN Congressional special elections (6 House seats and 1 Senate seat), TWO gubernatorial (governor) elections, dozens of mayoral elections, and other local elections to follow and vote in. Care about that school board election and the county commissioner election. It’s fun, I promise.
Barack Obama, speaking the truth.