The NCSL Blog


By Dylan Lynch

After every Election Day, a slew of news articles tout what went right, or focus on what went wrong. This primary season there seems to be a new, yet subtle trend in the news: stickers.

I Voted Sticker: credit AP.Even though you can personally buy 1,000 “I Voted” stickers from Amazon for the low price of $19.95, these stickers remain almost priceless to American voters.

And yet in 2012, Santa Clara County opted not to include stickers in their absentee ballot packets to save $90,000, voters noticed—and complained.

In South Carolina, the stickers got a revamp this year. The Palmetto Group, a nonprofit in South Carolina that distributes “I Voted” stickers statewide to election officials, notes it costs them $10,000 every two years.

The origin of “I Voted” stickers seems to be a debatable subject, but what is less debatable is the meaning of the sticker. Patriotism, civic duty and participation all jump to mind. At the very least, stickers serve as a reminder to others that it is Election Day.

Unfortunately for the poor souls of Minnehaha County, S.D., an oversight during this month’s primary election led to the treasured “I Voted” stickers never making it to the polling locations. But South Dakota isn’t alone in this sticky business.

Mississippi secretary of state Delbert Hosemann, a likely candidate for lieutenant governor in 2019, has also found himself in a sticky situation over stickers. In Mississippi, I voted stickers say, “Vote in Honor of a Veteran,” and have the secretary’s name in small type. Another candidate for the lieutenant governor’s slot has questioned whether this is lawful, citing Miss. Code Ann. §23-15-895: “It shall be unlawful for any candidate…to post or distribute cards, posters or other campaign literature within one hundred fifty (150) feet of any entrance of the building wherein any election is being held.” The question of potential electioneering looms large.

However, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday on Minnesota Voters Alliance v Mansky, that Minnesota’s ban on political apparel at polling place, was “unconstitutionally overboard.”

And finally, there's Maryland. The democratic frontrunner for governor, Kevin Kamenetz, died of sudden cardiac arrest, leaving his running mate, Valerie Ervin, to take his place at top of the ballot for the June 26 election. This happened after the primary ballots had already been printed and without enough time to reprint the ballots to reflect the change in candidates.

A simple fix was suggested: Just put stickers on all the ballots. But that idea didn’t hold. Maryland Statute, Md. Election Law Code Ann. §9-208, states, “If there is insufficient time for reprinting the ballots and if the voting system cannot accommodate stickers, the local board shall notify the voters of the change or correction in accordance with regulations adopted by the State Board.” The board decided not to use stickers and Ervin challenged this decision in court

In the end, concerns of accurately and timely applying stickers to over 2 million ballots and the potential of those stickers to interfere with the ballot counting equipment won the day.  Ervin subsequently dropped out of the race and threw her support to another candidate.

It turns out Maryland is not unique in being prepared to deal with sticker squabbles.

  • West Virginia and Idaho require that if a nomination is made or vacancy filled after ballots have been printed, stickers with the name of the candidate must be placed on the ballot.
  • New Hampshire Rev. Stat. §659.65 regards a ballot as defective if a sticker is adhered to the ballot that was not previously prepared in accordance with N.H. Rev. Stat. §656.21.
  • Maine does not allow a sticker to be used to vote for a write-in candidate.
  • In Florida, voters are expressly prohibited from casting a ballot using either stickers or a rubber stamp.

Depending on the state, stickers can either get you out of—or into—a sticky situation on Election Day.

Dylan Lynch is a policy associate with NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting program.

Email Dylan.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.