TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—The Tompkins County Board of Elections (TCBOE)  is trying something new to boost civic engagement: a contest to design an “I Voted” sticker contest.

The contest, announced on Tuesday, is targeted to engage the county’s young people. Eligible participants must be students in grades nine through 12 in a school in Tompkins County. Homeschooled students are eligible as well. 

The idea is inspired in no small part by the viral success of an “I Voted” sticker contest held by the Ulster County Board of Elections, which resulted in what has been described as a “demon spider-crab” becoming the mascot of the Hudson Valley county’s 2022 election season.

The demon spider-crab “I Voted” sticker design that won the Ulster County Board of Elections contest in 2022.

“We’re looking for something for the people to get excited about,” Diane Orlowski, TCBOE’s Republican Deputy Commissioner, said. “Who gets excited about local elections? Not very many people.”

And that’s the rub. Voter turnout, particularly in local elections, remains low across the U.S., and Ithaca is no exception. Ithaca’s population of about 32,000 is divided among its five wards. The residents of each ward are able to elect two candidates to Ithaca’s Common Council. In the most active wards in the City of Ithaca, like the first and the second, races to fill a seat on Common Council are often decided with a voter turnout of just 700 to 900 people. Less active wards, like the fourth, have a good year if more than a hundred voters show up at the polls. 

TCBOE officials told The Ithaca Voice that its hope is to make young people more involved in politics and maybe even start thinking about volunteering as poll workers. 

“[It’s] getting us back into high schools and getting us back to educate the young voters,” Alanna Congdon, TCBOE Republican Commissioner, said.

“Maybe we can start young, get them involved in the government or paying attention to what’s going on around them. The contest might just might spark something,” Orlowski said.

Six designs will be selected by TCBOE staff as finalists, then presented to the county for a community-wide vote. The winning design will be printed and distributed in the November 2023 general election. Whatever the design is, it must say “I Voted” on it. Submissions will be accepted until May 1, 2023. The rules and submission guidelines can be found on the Tompkins County government’s website. 

When TCBOE officials were asked how they felt about the possibility of a flood of submissions akin to Ulster County’s grimacing, psychedelic, beloved, and nightmarish “I Voted” sticker, Democratic Commissioner Stephen Dewitt let out a boisterous laugh before saying, “Or more traditional!”

Officials at TCBOE are simply hoping to see a wide variety of submissions.

Jimmy Jordan

Jimmy Jordan is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn