NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — No matter how Tennessee voters cast their ballots, they'll be offered "I Voted" stickers featuring the name of a key Republican who's not running for office — yet.
The stickers — red and shaped like Tennessee — prominently display the words "Secretary of State Tre Hargett." They'll be handed out beginning with the start of early voting next week for the Nov. 4 election.
Hargett is a former state House Republican leader and is widely considered to be preparing a bid for higher elected office, though he has downplayed his political aspirations.
"Putting Secretary Hargett's name and the #GoVoteTN hashtag on the stickers provides accountability," State Election Coordinator Mark Goins said in an email Friday. "If people have questions or comments about how an election was conducted, they know who to contact."
The secretary of state is appointed to a four-year term by a joint convention of the state House and Senate. Hargett has held that position since 2009 after serving as chairman of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority and spending 10 years in the state House.
The new "I Voted" stickers match the colors of the Tennessee — including a blue spot with three white stars — but they also resemble popular campaign bumper stickers from fellow Republicans such as Gov. Bill Haslam, who is up for re-election in November.
The new stickers replace the traditional ones featuring an American flag on a white background. "It may be nice to have a state-specific sticker, instead of the generic one they had," said Dick Williams, the chairman of Common Cause Tennessee, which identifies itself as a government watchdog group. "But who can argue against the American flag?"
Williams called it unfortunate for Hargett to have placed his name on the stickers. Williams suggested that the new stickers be distributed outside the 100-foot boundary set for campaigning near polling places.
Ben Cunningham, the founder of the Nashville Tea Party, also criticized the new stickers.
"This is completely inappropriate and serves no public purpose," he said. "The space used for Secretary Hargett's name could be much better used for a website link with information on sample ballots and voter registration forms."
Goins said he decided to provide the redesigned stickers, at a cost of two-tenths of a cent each, because several counties stopped offering them to voters due to budget concerns.
"When people return to work with 'I Voted' stickers, it reminds co-workers and friends to go out and vote as well," Goins said. "The stickers are the cheapest tool election officials can use to encourage voter turnout."