At City Hall in the nation’s sixth-largest city, officials knew they had to do something about their big election problem. Not low voter turnout, or voting machines that critics call too expensive and insecure, or polling places that can be inaccessible.

No, something needed to be done about Philadelphia’s “I VOTED TODAY” stickers, which are handed out at polling places.

The complaints roll in every election. For something called a sticker, they don’t do all that good a job of actually sticking. And why are they so generic? Some places have custom stickers that reflect the specific city, town, or state.

Now, Philadelphia is scrapping its current stickers and holding a competition to find new designs to showcase pride in both voting and the city. The commissioners on Tuesday will announce the competition in partnership with the School District, with submissions accepted through January.

“People want a Philly-centric sticker," said Lisa Deeley, chair of the Philadelphia city commissioners, who oversee elections. “We always thought that we should have a Philly-centric sticker, and we believe it will improve the voter experience.

"And we will make sure they stick,” Deeley added.

Liyanni Smith, 18, of West Philadelphia, wears her "I Voted Today" sticker at an Election Day party for the Working Families Party in North Philadelphia on Nov. 05, 2019.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Liyanni Smith, 18, of West Philadelphia, wears her "I Voted Today" sticker at an Election Day party for the Working Families Party in North Philadelphia on Nov. 05, 2019.

Judges will select six semifinalists — from categories that include elementary, high school, and college students as well as adults — and public voting will determine the student and adult winners.

“It would be really thrilling and heartwarming if a student won. They would see, ‘There’s my art!’” said Grace Palladino, a consultant with the School District who specializes in civics. “Their excitement is going to create a ripple effect that is a lot more authentic than maybe just a one-minute kind of ‘Rah, rah, you should vote,’ which a lot of times is your main access point when a kid turns 17 and you say, ‘Don’t forget to register next year, don’t forget to vote.’”

Palladino envisions teachers using the contest as a way to talk about government and democracy.

The new stickers — there will be at least two, possibly three — will be used beginning with the presidential primary election in April.

How to submit a sticker design

Designs must fit within a two-inch diameter circle with a quarter-inch bleed around it and should be nonpartisan, original work that is visible from a distance. All designs should contain one of the following three phrases, or the equivalent in Spanish:

  • I Voted
  • I Voted Today
  • Future Voter

Submissions will be accepted in January, with a public judging period from Feb. 17 through Feb. 28. The winners will be announced March 2.

Templates, full details, and information on submissions can be found at philadelphiavotes.com, by calling the Philadelphia City Commissioners at 215-686-3460, emailing ivotedsticker@philadelphiavotes.com, or by mail at City Hall, Room 130, Philadelphia, PA 19107.

“I Voted” stickers have become popular across the country because they can help remind some people about an election and they socialize the idea of voting. Research has shown that people are more likely to vote when they believe others are doing so, and positive experiences at polling places help encourage a habit of voting.

“Really, fundamentally, it’s about raising awareness that it’s Election Day,” said Al Schmidt, a city commissioner who helped bring the current stickers to Philadelphia in 2012. “It’s more than virtue-signaling, it’s more than getting a lollipop when you get your hair cut. It serves a really important role.”

Amanda Silberling, 22, holds up her sticker after voting in the primary election in May 2018.
Jonathan Lai / Staff
Amanda Silberling, 22, holds up her sticker after voting in the primary election in May 2018.

Custom stickers generate particular excitement, elections officials said. A contest this year yielded three new sticker designs in Arlington County, Va.

“People really like their “I Voted” stickers in Arlington, so the new design tends to be a pretty positive response,” said Gretchen Reinemeyer, director of elections there. “People are more likely to post it on social media.”

Arlington County, Virginia, has new stickers after a public competition. The skyline sticker, left, is handed out at polling places while the multilingual sticker, center, is mailed with absentee ballots. A sticker designed by a first-grader, right, is handed out to children at polling places.
Arlington County Electoral Board
Arlington County, Virginia, has new stickers after a public competition. The skyline sticker, left, is handed out at polling places while the multilingual sticker, center, is mailed with absentee ballots. A sticker designed by a first-grader, right, is handed out to children at polling places.

Having multiple designs has become fashionable, and New York City rolled out four sticker designs this year: “I voted,” “I voted early,” “I registered to vote,” and “I’m a future voter.” All feature the same silhouettes of famous New York landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty. Those replaced the subway-line stickers the city previously handed out.

“We wanted it to be indicative of something," said Valerie Vazquez-Diaz, spokesperson for the elections board in New York. “Not only of the pride, the civic pride of registering, but all New Yorkers are proud to be New York City residents, and we thought that this would be something that resonates across all five boroughs.”

New York City’s elections board rolled out new stickers this year.
NYC Board of Elections
New York City’s elections board rolled out new stickers this year.