Two things were missing in Tuesday’s municipal election.
The first was voters — only 25 percent showed up in Stamford.
The second, less important but no less noticeable, apparently — was “I Voted Today” stickers.
Poll workers were asked about them throughout Election Day, said Susan Darer, who worked as a ballot clerk at First Presbyterian Church on Bedford Street in voting District 11.
“People kept saying to us, `Where’s my sticker?’ Just about everybody made a comment,” said Darer, who has worked at polling places in Stamford for 10 years and can not remember an Election Day without stickers. “No one seemed to know why we had none. Our guess was either budget cuts or somebody forgot.”
No one at city hall forgot, said Alice Fortunato, Stamford’s Democratic Registrar of Voters.
“We didn’t have them this year,” Fortunato said.
Lucy Corelli, the Republican Registrar of Voters, said the city usually gets the stickers from the Connecticut Secretary of the State.
“The state didn’t send them,” Corelli said. “It was the first year without them, as far as I know.”
Av Harris, spokesman for the Secretary of the State, said the department doesn’t have the money for them any more.
“Our budget was cut more than $1.7 million for this fiscal year,” Harris said. “Towns are free to purchase the stickers if they wish.”
Harris said the department’s director of elections, Peggy Reeves, who was a registrar of voters in Wilton, told him the town would order them on the Internet from the company Intab, paying $6.95 for a roll of 1,000.
The stickers are no small thing.
“They provide peer pressure to get out and vote,” Darer said. “People go to work with a sticker on and a co-worker sees it and is reminded. Or someone sees you with it at the grocery store, and it starts a conversation about the election. Parents bring their kids with them to the polling place to teach them the importance of voting, and promise them a sticker.”
In a March 2004 primary in Stamford, an “I Voted” sticker made national headlines and became the subject of a spoof on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart when Robert Bonoff filed a claim against the city for $106, the price of his faux suede jacket.
Bonoff said a poll worker put the sticker on his jacket after he voted in Springdale, and it left a mark when he pulled it off. The city denied Bonoff’s claim, but he earned $110 for his television interview.
The “I Voted” sticker is an American phenomenon.
In Austin, Texas, the American-Statesman newspaper website posts photos of citizens with their stickers on Election Day. The photos include a motorcyclist who stuck it beside the patches on his black leather jacket; a young woman who put it on her cheek; a father who fixed it to the T-shirt of his little boy.
People wearing “I Voted” stickers post photos of themselves on YouTube, MySpace and Facebook.
In Ohio, the secretary of the state chose a design for this year’s “I Voted” sticker by asking citizens to, of course, vote.
“The Election Day sticker is worn as a badge of honor,” the Ohio secretary, Jon Husted, told cleveland.com.
That’s what it is, said Kate Urbank, membership chair for the Stamford League of Women Voters.
“It shows you’ve done your civic duty,” Urbank said. “Someone showed me how they’d stuck them in the cover of their Blackberry, one stacked on the other, from all the elections they voted in. We’ve come to expect it. When I voted Tuesday morning, I asked for my sticker, too.”
She will inquire whether the league can do something to restore the tradition, Urbank said.
But Jara Burnett of Greenwich, who was a member of the state league for many years, said the stickers likely have gone the way of voting ballots.
“Until three or four years ago, the state would pay for ballots. Then budgets were slashed, and now municipalities pay for ballots,” Burnett said.
She worked at a polling place in the Riverside section of Greenwich, where they handed out “I Voted” stickers for the first part of Election Day, but then ran out.
“I’m not sure where they came from,” Burnett said. “They may have been left over from the last election. It’s sort of sad. It’s a shame, really. There was a reason the state gave them out in the first place.”
If the state league got involved, it would have to offer stickers to all Connecticut towns, and there may not be money for that, Burnett said.
Stamford should find a way to get stickers for the next election, Darer said. As it is, municipal elections draw perhaps 30 percent of registered voters, particularly in a year when no mayor is chosen. The last time was 2007, when 29 percent of voters turned out, according to the registrars’ office. This time was even lower, 25 percent.
“People just straggled in all day long. It was very quiet,” Darer said. “Maybe the stickers would have brought out a few more voters. It’s probably not the best idea to do away with them.”
They illustrate that responsibility comes with the privilege of democracy, Urbank said.
“The voting stickers are like fireworks on the Fourth of July,” she said. “They’re part of living in America.”
Angela Carella can be reached at 203-964-2296 or firstname.lastname@example.org.