Story at a glance
- Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, many Americans are voting through mail-in ballots.
- While some states send an “I voted” sticker along with the ballot, a new initiative in partnership with New York Magazine is giving the old stickers a new look.
- "I am a voter" is a nonpartisan volunteer organization encouraging Americans to exercise their right to vote.
Mandana Dayani came to the United States as a refugee from Iran before she turned six. Now 38, the co-founder of the “I am a voter” movement was shocked to learn that just a little more than half of the eligible voting population in the United States actually votes.
“Contrary to some narratives, immigrants are often some of the most patriotic people in America. I was raised with this profound sense of patriotism and gratitude for America and being able to thrive here,” Dayani said. “As an immigrant, I just assumed everyone would vote. I came from this dictatorship to America for this right.”
A talent agent and former vice president of a fashion and media company, Dayani decided that voting needed a rebrand. She tapped into her network, which included Erica Domesek, founder of DIY lifestyle brand P.S.—I Made This, who tapped into her network and the movement grew to include influencers, celebrities and artists with networks of their own.
FOMO (or the fear of missing out) is a powerful tool and the organization decided to use it to promote their latest voter initiative in partnership with New York Magazine, a series of “I voted” stickers reimagined by artists including Shepard Fairey, KAWS, Barbara Kruger, David Hammons, Laurie Simmons and Amy Sherald.
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So here’s the inside scoop on the new “I voted” stickers that will be popping up in your Instagram feeds soon. The initial release was on Oct. 26 in partnership with New York Magazine, which printed four different covers with 12 stickers in each issue. But don’t worry if you can’t find a copy; the organization has also partnered with several polling stations, cultural institutions and brands, from Crate and Barrel to the Rockefeller Center.
Each design tells a unique story of artists and voters across the country. Hiba Schahbaz, a painter in Brooklyn, N.Y., voted for the first time in the 2016 presidential election after immigrating from Pakistan.
“Every election is so important but I think all of us are feeling like this one is very important because the last four years have been difficult and we want to make things better,” she said.
After the police shooting of George Floyd reignited protests for racial justice, Schahbaz began drawing portraits of Black murder victims. The portrait she selected for the “I am a voter” initiative is of Dominique Rem’mie Fells, a Black transgender woman killed in Philadelphia on June 8 — one of more than 30 transgender Americans killed this year.
“I wanted to give the space I had to her because her voice was taken too soon,” she said. “As a person who has the privilege of being safe in this country I need to use my voice.”
Shaina McCoy remembers learning in school that it was her civic duty as a U.S. citizen to exercise her right to vote and has voted ever since she turned 18. The 26-year-old artist contributed “Maryann and Leila,” a painting of her brother’s cousin and aunt, to the “I voted” project.
“I hope [the painting] makes you think about your children and your future and the legacy that you leave behind,” she said. “[Voting] is an important right to exercise especially for the children of the next generation.”
Ensuring a future for those children is why McCoy is voting this year, citing climate change, access to health and reproductive rights as crucial issues on the ballot this year. But voting isn’t a right she takes for granted. Many Americans face multiple barriers to exercising their right to vote, including voter ID requirements, a lack of language access and physical access to the polls themselves. States have eliminated 21,000 physical polling locations for the 2020 elections and the coronavirus pandemic has put additional strain on those that remain to ensure a safe voting experience.
“If you see how hard people are trying to suppress our votes...it does matter, it is a very powerful thing to do as a US citizen and a right to be exercised,” McCoy said. “Do it for people who are unable to, do it for the children who can't decide these things yet, do it for your neighbors, do it for your family, do it because other people have not been able to.”
But those who do have the access and privilege to be able to vote and choose not to are who Adam J. Kurtz is really mad at.
“How f***ing sad is it that we need a gold star for voting,” Kurtz joked. “You’re supposed to vote because it's in your best interest.”
The artist and author grew up during the Obama era and now creates illustrative work rooted in honesty, humor and a little bit of darkness. The simplicity of his design is essential to his message about the simple power of a vote.
“I had a lot of fun with it but I wanted it to be like anyone could look at that and think I could make that, it’s just pen and paper, it’s no big deal. And ultimately that's what voting is, it’s just pen and paper, it’s that easy,” he said. “But when you make something special out of these humble materials it makes something valuable.”
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