Sondra Powell thought it a harmless promotion — a free small cup of coffee for customers who showed up to her coffee shop, Red Hot Roasters at 1403 Lexington Road, wearing an “I voted” sticker.
It became apparent soon after she opened the coffee shop at 7 a.m. that Jefferson County polling stations were handing out no such stickers.
Powell said she quickly adopted an honor system approach, giving free small coffees to those who simply told her that they’d voted.
The customers were still disappointed, she said.
“I think people — at least our customers — they’re pretty proud that they went out and voted,” she said.
“They wonder if this is part of the economic problems of the world — that we can’t afford stickers.”
It’s not about money, says the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office.
The stickers haven’t been offered at Jefferson County polling places for several years, said Nore Ghibaudy, spokesman for the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office.
They were, maybe 10 years ago, but the clerk’s office stopped handing out “I voted” stickers after some of the proprietors of the buildings used as polling places complained, he said.
Some of those stickers ended up stuck on the walls of polling places or stomped onto the ground, he said. Building owners – schools, community centers, churches – threatened to stop making their spaces available for voting, and the clerk’s office decided to cease the stickers, Ghibaudy said.
If it’s been years, why might people still be complaining that they didn’t get a sticker? Ghibaudy said turnout is always greater in presidential general elections – some voters hadn’t visited a polling place since 2008, though Ghibaudy said no stickers were handed out then, either.
The vandalism problem notwithstanding, this Atlantic piece published Tuesday afternoon argues that “I voted” stickers help increase turnout.
The “I Voted” sticker is a signal and an advertisement. It binds people together in solidarity and reminds others to join the group. Tens of millions of people will vote in every presidential election whether there are free stickers or free cookies. But beyond these intrinsically interested (and, possibly, more informed) voters are countless more citizens who need motivation to show up at the ballot box.
Mid-day Tuesday, Powell said the honor system was working fine – she figured she’d hand out about 100 free small cups of coffee before closing this evening.
“We don’t get involved in politics here – you know how you don’t talk about religion and politics and any of those things,” Powell said. “I guess, for us, this is our way to encourage people to vote.”