Last Tuesday, along with just over half the country, I voted. (Only 55 percent of voting age Americans cast ballots. Come on, people.) I drove the 48 miles to my hometown, a region projected to be a deep shade of red. It was nearly an hour into enemy territory, all to participate in person and fulfill my civic duty. My family piled into the car and drove to a church a few blocks over; we even took my youngest brother along, despite his not being able to vote until 2020. And there, in a rec room turned voting booth, I cast my ballot.
When I went to get my “I Voted” sticker, the kindly grandma volunteering informed me that they had run out of them. In its place, she offered me a very sweet homemade floral bookmark — laminated, no less. Now, I vote because I believe deeply in the democratic process and the idea of participating in your government, but I wanted that sticker. I had expended considerable effort to vote in my district, in person, and I deserved that sticker. I was not content with the bookmark, however sweet it was.
My family gave me a fair about of guff (i.e., they harassed me all the way home), teasing me for being so dejected about not receiving a sticker. They may have made references to the way small children act when toys are taken from them. Incidentally, the only family member who had gotten a sticker was my youngest brother, who had scored a Future Voter one. And while I know that who does and does not get an “I Voted” sticker does not matter, that your vote is counted with or without the proof fastened to your shirt, that absentee votes don’t get stickers either, I was saddened. I had wanted to do what my friends and family had been doing: posting their sticker selfies and voting photos up, back and sideways across social media, revealing to the world that they, too, had been to the voting booth that day.
Eventually, I had to take a step back and ask myself why I was so downtrodden about not getting a sticker. I mean, there are several countries where citizens cannot vote, where women cannot vote, and where no one is afforded the chance to vote for a woman. I wanted that sticker in part because I wanted the world to know that I was a proud voter, that I wasn’t ashamed of taking part in the election, that I was exercising a right that hadn’t always been present for my demographic. But I also wanted to show my Instagram feed.
Sharing voting updates across social media is certainly not unique to this election, but the Internet has grown tremendously in the last four years — it’s become something used with frequently by all ages, not just college students testing out new apps. And in that time, we had become more comfortable with online disclosure. Even considering the particularly polarizing tensions of this year’s election, I was surprised at how many of my friends and family posted something on Election Day. Why the frenzy? Well, the main virtue of social media is that it validates us — in our choices, in our image, and in the things we stand for and the people we associate with. People posted their sticker selfies on November 8 because not only were they proud to have voted, and they wanted people to validate that.
This election was so much about social media. So much about appearances. Celebrities took sides, political commentators turned lies into laugh track, and mainstream media battled with social media over who was skewing the truth. In a way, it felt right that this election, fought so much over Facebook and Twitter, should end there as well. Things come full circle. But whichever side of the aisle you sit, sticker or not, post or no post, anyone who voted was still a voice in this democracy.
For my part, I have since resigned to my lack of sticker — we all have bigger fish to fry. But something tells me I won’t have to worry about being denied an “I Voted” sticker ever again — I’ve heard talk that my family is conspiring to buy me a whole roll for Christmas.
Ruth Weissmann is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. A Word to the Weiss appears alternate Fridays this semester.