While Americans will never share the same political viewpoints, there is one election day opinion just about everyone can agree on–we all love that shiny, red and blue “I Voted” sticker, and we all love affixing it to our shirts, showing we practiced our civic duty to anybody that walks by or sees our selfies on Facebook.
But how did the iconic badge come to be? According to Bustle, its history is a bit mysterious.
It is known that the stickers came into existence sometime in the 1980s, but the creators of the country’s most popular parting gift is still a “hotly contested question.” The Phoenix Realtors Association (PRA) claims to have come up with the idea in 1985; however, according to Time, businesses in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, were reported by the Miami Herald to be giving discounts to customers donning the “I Voted” sticker in 1982.
“We were absolutely the first ones in the country,” PRA President and eventual Phoenix Mayor Skip Rimsza said to the Arizona Republic in an article published in 2006. “Back in 1985-’86, I went to the national realtors convention, [and] no one had heard of any stickers in their communities.”
According to a fact sheet provided to Bustle from the PRA, the invention of the sticker was to be “a visible reminder to vote with the intent of increasing afternoon and evening voter turnout.”
The sticker’s classic design featuring an American flag was released a few years later in 1987 by Janet Boudreau of the election-supply company Intab, Time reported. Boudreau was “shocked” at how many people didn’t realize it was Election Day and wanted to help.
“I wanted them to see people with an ‘I Voted’ sticker and think ‘Oh, I should do that,'” said Boudreau, who thinks of the stickers as a product of “coming of age” during the ’60s and ’70s when she realized just how important it was to exercise her civic duty.
“In terms of civil rights and people protesting against the Vietnam War, we could see populism having a huge effect. Who you’d get in office to pass or kill legislation could mean life or death for some people.”
No matter who came up with the idea or the design, the existence of the “I Voted” sticker does make a difference. Studies show that holding “non-partisan election festivals” increase voter turnout, and thanking voters post-ballot casting boosts participation in future elections, Bustle reported, therefore suggesting the badge’s power can be attributed to turning voting into a more “communal activity” and making participants feel appreciated.
“Before, the folks that you knew in your neighborhood would know that you voted, and voting was an occasion. And now many of us can’t vote, or can’t take time off, or if we do, [we] don’t necessarily see the folks that we want to engage with,” City University of New York political science professor Celina Su told Bustle. “So the sticker, and then also publicizing you wearing the sticker online, sort of does that in a new way.”
And though the sticker is already flooding social media timelines, Su predicts it will continue to rise in popularity, as they have begun to “morph into a subtle form of protest” against the attempts to prevent certain people to exercise their rights to vote.
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“When we feel like this right is in danger,” she said, “any signal to exercise that right means a lot more.”