Yesterday there was a primary election in New York. My social media feeds filled with friends showing off “I Voted” stickers as if they had just won the Congressional Medal of Honor. They voted! They took 12 minutes out of their day to fulfill their duty as citizens, and they were rightfully proud. Like my 8-year-old son when he aces a language arts worksheet, they deserved a sticker.
The “I Voted” sticker has become ubiquitous in this, the longest-standing democratic nation on the face of the earth. It is presented with a smug, aloof air of gravity and profound conceit on our lapels and T-shirts. But what could be more condescending? If you, at your place of employment, completed some basic and simple task, and your boss presented you with a little sticker, would you not worry for your job? Would you not think you were being mocked? I mean, unless you work at Google, of course.
As it turns out, the “I Voted” sticker is a product of the 1980s, the most overrated decade. They were originally supplied by stores that offered discounts if you came in wearing one. Hooray for capitalism! Except it’s extremely illegal. You can’t compensate people for voting.
But everyone loved the stickers, so what is the next best thing? Let the taxpayers foot the bill. It is an industry that makes tens of millions of dollars on the taxpayer’s dime. This should be especially bothersome to Republicans who celebrate their vote to lower taxes with a taxpayer-funded souvenir of voting soon to be thrown away.
But even Democrats have reason to question their decision to display this overt sign of privilege. “I Voted.” What a smack in the face of all the oppressed people denied the franchise. What a cavalier expression of unearned advantage.
Voting is its own reward. Neither John Adams nor Thomas Jefferson ever said, “And there shall be government by the people, affirmed not only with the blood of patriots but by the glue that binds an ‘I Voted’ sticker to the Lulu Lemon workout top of an attractive young woman in Tribeca.”
More than anything, the “I Voted” sticker reminds me of the scene in “Office Space” when Jennifer Aniston flips off her boss after he criticizes her for not having enough flair on her uniform.
When someone tries to hand me the sticker, I think, I hate these candidates! And I hate this election! And I don’t need it! Then in my imagination I flip the bird all over the place. But I haven’t really actually done that yet. In New York there are police officers at the polling places.
Yes, I voted. I did the bare minimum. Voting is like wishing somebody a happy birthday on Facebook. It is literally the least you can do. And eventually Facebook will probably give you a virtual sticker for doing so. Yay for you! You care.
There may be some who suggest that the “I Voted” sticker displayed in the subway, or business meeting, or rehearsal might encourage others to vote who otherwise might not. Presumably these are people who weren’t voting because they didn’t care to, and hadn’t paid much attention to what or who is being voted on. So what? Throw a dart. Better to make a choice even if you have no idea what you are choosing between.
The “I Voted” sticker degrades our great republic. Of course you voted. It is your duty. Why not an “I fed my kid” sticker, or a “I paid my taxes” sticker? The “I Voted” sticker is the participation trophy of an atrophied democratic system in which nobody pays enough attention. Well, I say, “No more!” The taxpayers will no longer celebrate your meager contribution with a child’s reward.
Instead we will be adults, and take our duty seriously. We won’t reduce our republic to a display of false engagement. The next time you vote, turn down the sticker. Just know you played your part.
David Marcus is the Federalist’s New York Correspondent and the Artistic Director of Blue Box World, a Brooklyn based theater project. Follow him on Twitter, @BlueBoxDave.