AUSTIN (KXAN) —They’re ubiquitous at polling places around central Texas and across the country, the small stickers bearing an American flag that boast participation in the democratic process.
“Oh my goodness, we do not want to run out of ‘I Voted’ stickers,” Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said. “You have never seen a more disappointed voter than if we run out of ‘I Voted’ stickers.”
The stickers have been around for decades after rising to popularity in the 1980s. That’s about when Travis County started buying them for voters here, DeBeauvoir said, either in the late 80s or 1990.
As the population increases and more people turn out for elections, they’ve had to buy more and more of them whenever they stock up.
“Where we used to buy a hundred thousand that would last us a year or so, now we buy 200,000 or 300,000,” she said, “because as you can see, we’ve just had 372,000 people vote early.”
Each sticker costs the county less than a penny, so this year’s stock will take between $3,000-$4,000 from the county’s annual budget. DeBeauvoir hasn’t heard any complaints about the expenditure, but she certainly hears complaints when they don’t have them.
Some businesses even offer freebies to customers who wear their stickers into their stores during early voting or on election day.
Erica Nicolini didn’t have a sticker with her, but she did have her early voting receipt when she went to Bird Bird Biscuit on Friday. The restaurant offered a free biscuit and jam to anyone who came in early with either a receipt or sticker during early voting.
“I think it’s just either a nice reminder to early vote, or if you’re already planning to vote, like I was, it’s just like a little bonus,” Nicolini said.
Bird Bird Biscuit’s co-owner Brian Batch estimated they made hundreds of extra biscuits during the last two weeks to give away to early voters. “I’ve made a lot more biscuits than I anticipated making,” he said. “But that’s a good thing.”
Some legal experts warn giving out freebies for voting violates federal law. U.S. Code enables a fine or even jail time for “whoever makes or offers to make an expenditure to any person, either to vote or withhold his vote, or to vote for or against any candidate.”
But DeBeauvoir believes offering a free donut or drink to someone wearing an “I Voted” sticker is separate from that statute. The spirit of the law, she said, is prohibiting any quid pro quo, not rewarding people for wearing a sticker.
“I think they are offering it in good spirit,” she said. “It’s just sharing in the fun of, ‘Yay, you got out and voted.'”
Batch heard it might be best to avoid the practice, but wanted to do something for voters.
“I like to think that if a super PAC can spend billions of dollars to sway elections, we can give out a biscuit and jam without somebody, like, coming down on us,” he said. “We’re not saying which way to vote, you know. We’re just wanting to share biscuits with people who do.”