MILWAUKEE, WIS. - The American flag waves across a white oval that patriotically proclaims, “I voted.” The stickers — possibly the only non-partisan symbol of civic pride left — are everywhere on election day.
So when did those little white stickers first appear on lapels?
Milwaukee polling locations started passing out the tokens in the mid-1990s. The City of Milwaukee ordered about 450,000 "I Voted" stickers to hand out at its 194 voting sites for Tuesday's presidential election.
Julietta Henry, director of elections for the City of Milwaukee from 1995 to 2004, said she first purchased the stickers for city voters at the beginning of her tenure.
"It was the trend at the time," said Henry, who now works as the director of the Milwaukee County Election Commission. "We had a great response then. When people wear the stickers, it encourages and reminds other voters to show the pride that they have in voting."
In some states, the stickers go beyond the traditional red, white and blue.
The stickers in Georgia come in the shape of a peach with the line, "I'm a Georgia voter." A few years ago, Ohioans voted on a new sticker; the winning design plays on the iconic I (heart) NY logo. The circular sticker replaces the heart with the shape of the state, so it reads I (Ohio) voting. Polls in Tennessee pass out red stickers in the shape of the state.
A few claims to starting the sticker go back to the mid-1980s.
The Phoenix Association of Realtors in Arizona claims to have come up with the idea for stickers in 1985.
The association says the president of its board and the operations director at the time brainstormed how to spark voter interest in a bond issue on the ballot that was particularly important to Realtors: a proposal to expand the freeway system.
The sticker was suggested as a reminder to vote. The idea was that the strong contingent of morning voters would wear the stickers and inspire more people to head to the polls in the afternoon.
Skip Rimsza was president of the association that year.
“We were absolutely the first ones in the country,” he said in a 2006 article in The Arizona Republic. “Back in 1985-'86, I went to the national Realtors convention, and no one had heard of any stickers in their communities.”
Diane Scherer, the current CEO of the realtor association, said that, to her knowledge, other municipalities did not hand out stickers prior to the association's sponsorship. She said their stickers are ordered through a local printer.
One election materials company in Florida began selling them in 1986. National Campaign Supply boasts that it has sold “The Original ‘I Voted Stickers’” since then. Companies charge less than 1 cent per sticker, with a roll of 1,000 costing about $7.
Janet Boudreau says she copyrighted the design with the waving American flag after she took the reins at Intab, then Independent Tabulation Corp., in 1987.
At the time, the stickers were not marketed nationwide.
"I was looking for products that would have broad appeal no matter what level of government you were on," Boudreau said. "I wanted a mass-appeal product and wanted a mass-appeal image."
The sticker given to voters previously had a square box with a check mark in it above the text. But Boudreau found the check mark archaic, since most polling locations didn’t use paper ballots. So she swapped in the American flag.
"It was nuts. I had no idea that it would take off the way it did," said Boudreau, who sold the company in 2015. The company now sells millions of the stickers a year.
"No matter what your party affiliation or politics are, we can all take pride in participating and having a say in what happens," she said.
The concept continues to evolve. Voters in Chicago will not receive stickers Nov. 8, but rather wristbands like those given out at festivals and concerts. The wristbands are intended to serve the same purpose as the stickers, proclaiming “I Voted! Did you?” The elections board ordered 1.5 million wristbands for $28,000 this fall, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Mary Stucky, a professor at Georgia State University, said the stickers do their job as a non-partisan reminder to go vote.
"All the (other) get-out-the-vote reminders are partisan," Stucky said. She uses an image of Georgia's sticker as her profile picture on Twitter and Facebook.
"It's a way to tell people who disagree with me politically that I want them to vote, too," she said.