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Chicago’s festival-inspired ‘I Voted’ wristbands spreading to other cities

Ryan Haake after voting at the polling station at Columbia College on Election Day, March 20, 2018.

Ryan Haake shows off his "I voted" wristband after voting at the polling station at Columbia College on Election Day, March 20th, 2018. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Flashing your “I Voted” sticker in an Election Day selfie has become an integral part of the democratic process for voters across the U.S. But Chicagoans have been saddled with Instagram-unfriendly paper receipts since 2012 after complaints of sticker-related vandalism from polling places reached a critical mass.

“The stickers ended up on windows and doors and created a mess for custodians having to scrape them off with razor blades the day after Election Day,” said Jim Allen, spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

But when the stickers were discontinued within Chicago city limits, Allen said complaints continued to roll in — this time from voters upset they didn’t receive a souvenir from their polling place.

“People like to walk around with an emblem of their participation,” Allen said.

The Chicago Board of Elections explored several alternatives to the stickers that would encourage equal enthusiasm for voters ahead of the 2016 presidential election, including pins. But they came with with a steep price tag, Allen said.

“We were looking at more than $200,000 [for the pins] and we were like, ‘No, that’s not going to fly.'”

While on the hunt for a sticker substitute, a Board of Election Commission staffer at a music festival spotted the durable wristbands used for admission and had the idea that they would work well at polling places, too. While they’re a bit more costly than stickers, the “I Voted” wristbands — which Allen said were first used in Chicago — have been a huge success. Other cities such as Louisville, Kentucky, have begun using them, he said.

“They don’t end up on walls or windows. Janitors and custodians like them, so that allows us to stay in polling places, and the voters like them,” Allen said. “We’ve seen voters taking selfies with their wrists up, holding their wrists up with the ‘I Voted’ [wristbands], and they’re very durable.”

“They won’t get you into any festivals, but they do show that you’ve exercised your patriotic duty.