Just like the cartoon stickers awarded to very brave boys and girls who make it through their dentist appointments, those who exercise their constitutional rights get a souvenir from their experience: another sticker!
“Everything is so heavy,” Marie Dagata, who co-designed the sticker all New Yorkers receive after voting, told The Daily Beast. “(The stickers) are a lightness, a form of self-expression for whatever your political stance is.”
On a day that exists to be partisan, the sticker communicates an unadulterated patriotism and old-school levity not usually seen in this vitriolic political era. “I’ve seen the sticker on people of all ages, on pets—I saw a nice one where people were kissing, and they both had my ‘I Voted’ sticker on their cheeks,” Dagata said. “It’s sweet.”
Dagata, who co-founded a biotech company and works out of a lab at Columbia University, lives just outside the city in Bronxville, New York.
In 2017, the former New Yorker heard about a contest run by NYC Votes calling for new designs. Over the course of a month and a half, without telling anyone, the amateur artist began sketching ideas.
One was a map of the five boroughs with a light background. The other, which she described as “busy,” had the phrase “Peoples Power” on it. “‘Peoples’ is a gathering of a particular group that makes a community and a defined group,” Dagata explained. “But it’s subtle, and you have to look it up in the dictionary to see that it’s described as an anthropological grouping of people.”
Dagata’s winning idea—five multi-colored subway lines coming together, to represent all of New York’s boroughs—was conceived during multiple Amtrak train rides to Rhode Island to visit family.
“I have a nice memory of working on it on the train, ” she said of her transit-inspired design. “The train was rocking, it was just a nice feeling, taking my sketch out of a folder.”
Dagata wanted a sticker that would represent all New Yorkers, not just the cookie-cutter image of the city consisting of only Manhattan. “The key is that people are from New York City, and New York City has five boroughs,” she explained. “I like the ideas that everyone could be wearing it wherever they were: ‘I voted, I’m in a borough, and my borough is listed.’”
Since Dagata’s ideas were only sketches, she needed a co-designer to help polish things up. “I couldn’t do the graphics, because I’d have to teach myself Photoshop in a day,” she said. So, she went down the street to enlist her neighbor, Scott Heinz, an old friend and Senior Art Director A+E Networks.
Heinz, who gamely credits his neighbor for doing most of the heavy lifting, told The Daily Beast that he was more than happy to help. “I loved the subway idea, it made perfect sense,” he said. “Why hasn’t anybody else done the subway as a vote sticker? It’s the iconic New York thing.”
Heinz finished the design in two days—just in time for the contest deadline.
A year and a half after winning the contest, Dagata still texts Heinz every election day morning. “I say, ‘Keep your eyes open, partner!’” she laughed.
Since both artists live outside of New York, neither of them end up wearing their own designs when they go to the polls.
“There is a bit of disconnect. I feel a twinge of guilt for winning over a city resident,” said Heinz, who lived in the Upper West Side for 13 years but moved out after having kids.
Though Dagata admitted that seeing so many people with her label slapped over their chest “feels weird,” the overall emotion is pride. “If it helps people vote more, or share that they voted, that’s a great thing.”
While she's voted in every election since she was 18, the artist never considered herself a hugely political person. “The sticker has pushed me a little bit into feeling like these things can matter,” she said. “I think it's nudged me to be a little more political.”
When co-workers ask to tag Heinz in Instagram posts of their stickers, he declines. “I’m not on Instagram, so I ask them to #ActBlue, to get a Democrat candidate selected,” he admitted. “People need to make a change and vote how they want the world to be. That's the more important thing, rather than my personal aside.”
There's also one more thing Heinz wants. “Nobody has asked me to autograph a sticker yet. But I’m waiting.”