While some counties and states provide polling locations with stickers, Allegheny County does not, so if your polling location does have stickers, it’s likely because someone at the polling place bought them with their own money. This explains why sticker distribution is uneven and why some people claim to have never been offered a sticker when voting. But it’s also kind of a bummer to learn that something that’s become such a familiar part of voting is not actually mandatory or well-funded. It’s kind of like being a kid and realizing teachers sometimes buy their own school supplies. A roll of 500 “I voted stickers” is available on Amazon for less than $8. A bulk of 5,000 stickers is available for $34.
There’s almost a Pavlovian response about the stickers; hitting the vote button makes voters crave a sticker, and not getting one is a disappointment. To some, voting stickers are another way to be performative about their political actions online by posting a selfie of an “I Voted” sticker on social media.
Why do Americans need a prize for doing their civic duty? And they are technically just another piece of useless waste that will end up in a landfill. One coworker said that to him, voting stickers are like Lil' Sebastian on Parks and Recreation; he just doesn't get it.
I made a Twitter poll to gauge general excitement about voting stickers, asking “How do you feel about voting stickers?” with four options: “they’re nice” (36 percent), “V sad when I don’t get one” (42 percent), “I don’t get the hype” (21 percent) and “the only reason I vote” (1 percent). The poll is still open, so these can change, but the percentages are based on 173 votes, which seems like a large enough sampling for an unofficial poll. Most people like voting stickers, at the very least, but a sizable portion doesn’t get what all the fuss is over. Thankfully, almost no one said it was the only reason they voted (though you could argue it doesn’t matter why someone votes, as long as they do it).
In addition to showing off your voter engagement, I Voted stickers can theoretically push others to vote, either by reminding them that it’s Election Day or by peer pressuring them because all the cool kids are doing it. Replying to the poll, @illusionofjoy said the stickers are "a good way to remind others that there is an election happening and to show a token of appreciation to those who've already voted.” Another person, @fleurdeliqueur, said, “I got an I Voted! sticker for the first time today and it has resulted in several people saying ‘oh right, I need to vote today!’ when they saw it. and that's their value.”
very scientific poll for official research! How do you feel about voting stickers? (if you have other voting sticker thoughts pls share)— Hannah Lynn (@hanfranny) November 5, 2019
On Election Day 2016, hundreds of women traveled to suffragist Susan B. Anthony’s grave in Rochester, N.Y., to put their “I Voted” sticker on her headstone after voting for what they hoped would be the first female president of the United States (that election made us all do deeply corny things, it's OK). Some criticized this performative action because Anthony was a white suffragist and said things like, “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.” Understandably, some people don’t revere her.
Voting is something that should be a right but is often a privilege. Women didn’t get the right to vote until 1920. Chinese immigrants couldn’t vote until 1943. The minimum voting age was 21 until 1971, when it was changed to 18.
Even more pressing today is that there is still plenty of systemic voter suppression and disenfranchisement that make it purposely difficult for people to vote when it’s something that should be easy. There are countries that don’t have voting, or where the voting is rigged against the voters.
Maybe that’s part of the excitement over the stickers. We get to vote, and that’s lucky.