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Anyone who’s worked the polls on Election Day can testify to the appeal of the “I Voted” sticker. It’s a hot commodity among voters, who proudly wear the sticker to display their civic participation and encourage others to turn out. In recent years, research has confirmed the anecdotes, revealing the social psychology behind the sticker.
This year in Cape Girardeau County, Missouri, voters will be wearing a new, distinctive “I Voted” sticker.
That’s because instead of buying generic stickers, county election officials held a sticker design contest for high school students. The competition, which officials hope to repeat in the future, encourages the area’s young adults to reflect on the democratic process while helping voters feel stronger community identification and civic pride.
“We wanted to do something new and exciting that was unique for our county,” explains Allen Seabaugh, Chief Deputy County Clerk and Supervisor of Elections.
Getting inspiration from others
With about 80,000 residents and 50,000 registered voters, Cape Girardeau County is a steadily growing community along the Mississippi river in Southeast Missouri. River city Cape Girardeau stands out as the most populous municipality, but the county government is based in the more central city of Jackson.
According to County Clerk Kara Clark Summers, however, the inspiration for the county’s sticker design contest came from far beyond the county’s borders.
In the lead up to the 2016 Presidential Election, a local high school civics teacher asked her students to research different “I Voted” stickers from across the nation, and she shared some of the designs with Kara and inquired about why the county used the stickers that it did. Kara admitted that the reason was affordability, but the discussion planted a seed for doing something more ambitious.
Kara and Allen were impressed with some of the stickers they saw and the stories behind them.
“While our sticker was pretty generic and looked similar to others,” Kara recalls, “some stood out to us. Louisiana’s and New York’s were some of those that really stood out to us as unique. That is when the idea came about of having an ‘I Voted’ sticker design contest in our county.”
In addition to looking unusual, the Louisiana and New York City stickers were the focus of major media campaigns to get the public excited. Louisiana honored artist George Rodrigue with its “Blue Dog” sticker design, and New York City held a competition to contribute designs for its sticker.
If New York City could do it, why not Cape Girardeau County?
Designing the contest
Kara and Allen decided to create their own sticker design contest and target local high school students to participate, feeling it would be “a great way to get high school students involved in the election process,” Kara says.
They knew running the contest would take more time and resources than just buying their old, off-the-shelf stickers but remained dedicated to the idea. “We concluded,” observes Allen, “that it would be worth it to do something different.”
As a first step, Allen reached out to the New York City Campaign Finance Board to learn how their sticker design contest worked. Then, he contacted area high schools to provide information and support so that students would be encouraged to submit designs.
The only submission guidelines were that the design had to include the phrase “I Voted,” incorporate the theme of voting in Missouri or the U.S., and be able to fit on a circular sticker two inches in diameter.
A panel of judges assessed submissions and chose four finalists, and then the County Clerk’s office invited members of the public to vote for their favorite using SurveyMonkey, a website that allows users to create custom surveys and polls.
“We wanted the voters in our county to have a say in deciding the official sticker design,” Allen explains. He says that he and Kara gravitated to SurveyMonkey because “we wanted to choose a platform that would allow us to meet these criteria: one vote per person throughout the voting period and everyone could have access to the link to vote.”
Once voting ended, the Clerk’s office proudly announced the winning design. Submitted by Lydia Riehn of Jackson High School, it features the outline of the state of Missouri encircled in stars, with the phrase “I Voted” overlayed in a muted red text. At the bottom, the design includes the name of the county to stress its local roots.
With the design selected, the final step was to arrange printing. “We received quotes on printing the new sticker,” Kara explains, “and were able to get our new sticker printed at a reasonable cost.”
Looking to Election Day
Ultimately Allen and Kara declared the competition a big success, and they received enthusiastic feedback from the community for their effort. “We have had a great public response to the contest and the new sticker,” Allen explains. Several news outlets even covered the contest and publicized the winning design, bringing positive attention to the Clerk’s office.
If other election offices want hold a sticker design competition, Allen has a few suggestions. First, think through the process from start to finish, anticipating everything that might -- and should -- happen. Next, consider how to accept submissions. Allowing hand-drawn submissions helps to include participants without computers or design software, but it brings logistical challenges. Finally, make a strong plan for promotion, thinking about who you want to participate and how best to reach them.
Though their first contest was a success, next time Allen and Kara hope to get more submissions by opening up participation to everyone in the community and not just high schoolers.
In the meantime, they’re looking forward to seeing the sticker make an impact on elections this year. “Our poll workers are excited to give this sticker to the voters on Election Day,” says Allen. “Not only will voters receive a sticker that is unique to our county, but it was designed by a high school student from our county. We plan to make this a tradition,” he concludes, “by holding a contest every two years to keep our sticker new and exciting.”
Has your office also used a contest to engage the public? What kinds of things have you done to shake up the routine on Election Day? How do you reach out to community members who aren’t yet of voting age? Share your strategies by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re always collecting best practices to share with our readers.