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One Sticker, Please: What We Get For Voting Matters

Should we be organizing a conference with economists and sticker makers?

So far, it's looking like about 118 million people voted in the 2012 presidential election. Even with a few days' worth of ballot-counting left to go, experts are saying that voter turnout might be lower this year than the record-breaking 2008 presidential election as well as lower than the 2004 presidential election.


Derek Thompson at Atlantic Business wrote a nice, short post, "Why The 'I Voted' Sticker Matters," offering up the tale of the Swiss government trying to increase voter turnout by implementing a vote-by-mail system—but found that voting by mail reduced turnout.

Here in the U.S., Oregon uses a vote-by-mail-only system and has one of the highest voter turnouts; this story makes it sound a bit like it's the community rather than the system contributing to the turnout. (Any Oregonians want to weigh in?)

Back in Switzerland, economist Patricia Funk thought she knew why voting by mail reduced turnout:

People like being seen voting, as Funk concluded, but we also like being seen having voted. Theoretically something signalling to our community that we've already voted should create the same feelings of social cohesion, civic duty, and belonging. And that's where the "I Voted" sticker comes in.

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It reminds me of the study I linked to here earlier this year that shows that signatures and lapel pins cause people to waste less water at hotels. If unobtrusively asked to sign a pledge to reuse towels—with the small reward of a pin—hotel guests are substantially more likely to do so.

This isn't lost on campaigns.

I live in Colorado. I spoke with about eight people on my doorstep about the election this year, almost all from the Obama campaign (presumably because I live in a reliably Democratic district in Denver). On the night before Election Day, a young man from a nonprofit—not the Obama campaign—was the very last person to badger me about the election this year. He asked me to sign a pledge to vote.

Of course, he didn't offer me a pin for it or anything, so I didn't sign it.

Photo via Flickr (cc) user vox efx.

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