Tuesday morning, I waited in line for about 45 minutes to pick up my ballot. When it was finally my turn in line to claim it, there was a minor delay. “This one is ripped,” the woman ahead of me said, holding up the “I Voted” sticker she’d received alongside the piece of paper that would help determine who will be our next president. The woman working the station replaced it without question, in what seemed like an unspoken understanding of its social capital. In a country where it is illegal to take a ballot selfie in at least 18 states, the “I Voted” sticker is what we on the internet call a receipt.
Once a small Election Day souvenir, the “I Voted” sticker, in all its various regional forms, has become an important badge of pride for the social media circuit that abides by the rule “pics or it didn’t happen.” When virtually everybody and their Bitmoji has created a “show you voted” feature for their website, it has become increasingly important that the internet-savvy public be ready with a response that includes cold, hard photographic evidence — a sticker selfie. Lena Dunham expressed delight that voting also yielded a sticker, posting a selfie on Instagram. Hundreds of women flocked to Susan B. Anthony’s grave to donate their stickers to her tombstone (and, inevitably, photograph it). There are even Election Day stickers designed to make people feel bad for not voting. The “I Voted” sticker has become the icon of this particular event’s social media circle jerk, much like the turkey photo belongs to Thanksgiving and your expertly carved jack-o’-lantern to Halloween. The only difference is that this form of bland peer pressure is a harmless carrot to encourage a more functional democracy.
If you’ve even glanced at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any social platform on Tuesday, you’ve likely seen strangers, celebrities, friends, and family members bearing the stickers. Wearing them is a point of pride! It signals our participation in our country’s political process. For that, we should be acknowledged with a sticker. And then, a sticker selfie. The “I Voted” sticker selfie is basically Election Day’s official bipartisan meme.
But — what about everyone who didn’t get a sticker?
Sticker shortages at physical polling locations are tragic, as hundreds of people on Twitter will tell you. Some counties have altogether banned stickers because of the “mess.” But even more disheartening is that some of America’s most responsible citizens — those who chose to vote early by mail — are shunned altogether. (“I voted by mail” stickers exist, mind you — something that all mail-in-ballot states should invest in.) A casual survey of my fellow Ringer colleagues reveals that Los Angeles County residents received stickers with their mail-in ballots (this is the first year L.A. observed stickers), while citizens who did the same in Baltimore County did not.
There’s a simple way to prevent these Election Day sob stories: make it a federal law that everyone who votes gets a sticker. Yes, any law that requires the distribution of stickers just for fun is, by definition, ridiculous. But hear me out: There are a small number of countries where voting is required by law. And an even smaller number that actually punish their citizens for not voting (like Australia, which fines non-voters $20 each). But what if we tried rewarding people instead? If most precincts can already muster up the funds for a roll of stickers, how much more money would it cost to actually ensure there were enough for everyone in every district? Couldn’t there be some sort of bipartisan fund that both the Democratic and Republican national committees are required to donate to? Even if we accidentally, God-forbid, buy too many stickers, we could always reuse them. “I Voted” stickers are evergreen pieces of joy; they don’t expire. What’s more: A sticker selfie is 100 percent legal everywhere, versus that other popular Election Day selfie, which maybe isn’t, depending on your location.
Each presidential election asks a lot of Americans. For two years, our inboxes have been spammed with requests for donations, our news channels have been decorated with increasingly laughable chyrons, and family encounters have become a delicate dance to avoid a screaming match. We deserve, at the very least, a tiny award for going through all this. Something to fill that empty Instagram void, to make us feel festive during an event that, for members of both parties, increasingly feels like doomsday. There is very little that America’s citizens can agree upon. But I bet we can all agree that, at a bare minimum, we get a fucking sticker for putting up with this discarded street diaper of an election.