Civic brag: Worn with pride, the ‘I Voted’ sticker a meaningful accessory
“Always vote for principle,” John Quincy Adams said, “though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”
So ... does it cheapen the vote if it’s cast for principle and the sticker?
The “I voted” sticker, that is, pride of election day, adorner of shirts and lapels throughout this great land, the prize at the end of the line, the ultimate #humblebrag.
Is it so wrong that among all the noble reasons for voting, the democracy and the right to choose our leaders and the freedom of it all, we’re at least partially motivated to the polls by thoughts of that sticker?
So beloved is the sticker that in these days of the mail-in/drop-off ballot, county clerks around the region — and around the country — make sure there’s a stack of them on top of ballot boxes, so that voters can poke their ballot into the slot, take a sticker (or seven, for shame) and post it immediately to Instagram, #ivoted #democracy.
“I remember people saying, ‘I miss voting in person because I don’t get my sticker,’” said Sheila Reiner, Mesa County clerk. “I do remember getting those complains when we started the mail-in ballots that they wouldn’t get a sticker.”
You know what? Let’s break this down into a helpful list:
1. Stickers are awesome.
This isn’t even up for discussion.
2. Voting is the best.
Oh, sure, you have the occasional cynical economist or political scientist who say that individual votes tend not to matter because elections are won by tens or even hundreds of thousands of votes, rather than a single one. But honestly, those cynical economists and political scientists are kind of jerks.
When addressing Congress about the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Lyndon Johnson said, “Our fathers believed that if this noble view of the rights of man was to flourish, it must be rooted in democracy. The most basic right of all was the right to choose your own leaders.”
Voting matters. It matters a lot.
3. But there’s nothing wrong with being rewarded for doing it with an excellent sticker!
The “I voted” sticker has been around since the mid-‘80s. National Campaign Supply (electionstickers.com) claims to be the first distributor of that small, white oval sticker with a jauntily waving U.S. flag and the words “I Voted.” Now, the company sells rolls of 1,000 for $6.75, in cases of 144 rolls.
Reiner said the last time Mesa County officials ordered the stickers was in 2014, and they ordered a lot so they probably won’t have to make another order until 2018.
Jean Alberico, Garfield County clerk, said she and the county elections staff start checking two or three months before the primaries to make sure they have enough stickers. Then, they send two or three rolls out to each polling station.
Because this is America, that little oval sticker could hardly be considered enough, and now the “I voted” sticker has grown and expanded and proliferated into “I voted early” and “I voted by mail” and “Future voter,” as well as different sizes and shapes and iconography.
Reiner said she’s even heard some grumbling about the original, small oval sticker: “I guess they’re not bling-y enough,” she said with a laugh.
4. Peer pressure: It’s not always bad.
In a study titled “Voting to Tell Others” and published earlier this year in The Review of Economic Studies, researchers from the University of California — Berkeley, the University of Chicago and Harvard University found that “while it is rare for others to confront us with our voting record, it is common for neighbors, friends, and family to ask whether we voted. If individuals care about what others think of them, they may derive pride from telling others that they voted or feel shame from admitting that they did not vote. In addition, they may incur disutility from lying about their voting behavior.
“Such individuals are motivated to vote (in part) because they anticipate that others will ask if they did. If they vote, they can advertise their ‘good behavior’ when asked. If they do not vote, they face the choice of being truthful but incurring shame, or saying that they voted but incurring the lying cost. This trade-off is reflected in the established fact that 25 to 50 percent of non-voters lie when asked about their past turnout.”
Boom, the “I voted” sticker. No need for nosy neighbors to even ask, plus it can be a silent judgment of the sort we all secretly love: Have you voted, commie?
“It’s almost a pride thing,” said Teri Stephenson, Delta County clerk. “I think people are very proud of the fact that they voted and they want other people to know it as well.”
5. OK, fine, few of us are immune to a little benign showing off.
Maybe it’s a little smug, but eh, is that such a terrible thing? In “Social Incentives and Voter Turnout: Evidence from the Swiss Mail Ballot System,” a 2010 study published in the Journal of the European Economic Association, Swiss researcher Patricia Funk found that people not only like to be seen actually voting, but to be seen as having voted.
Perhaps for the same reason we conspicuously buy kale or wear workout clothes as we go about our regular business, we let that “I voted” sticker do the work of defining and establishing an identity for the world to see: I am someone who can be roused off the couch for love of country and who understands democracy, OK?
Even temporary ones.
7. We need a little something good, especially this election cycle.
Let it be the “I voted” sticker, which doesn’t proclaim for whom or what the votes were cast, but the fact that they were cast at all. And that is to have a part in this incredible American experiment, to be “a piece of the continent, a part of the main,” if you’ll indulge a little John Donne. It is coming together and caring — truly, actually caring, no irony, no cynicism, with varying degrees of hope.
It is slapping that sticker right over your heart, wishing only that it said, “Heck yeah, I voted! Democracy, baby! Wooooo! USA! USA!”