The Vote

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Many years ago when I was a 20-year-old sailor I found myself in a small country on the other side of the world. The ship I was on had just pulled into port. I strolled down a dusty road in the middle of a remote town when I came across a disturbance. There was a group of people waiting in a line with another group yelling at them. I was intrigued so I went for a closer look. I could see that each person in line was carrying a small piece of paper. Some of the men had bruises on their faces; some were bleeding. I noticed that walking up and down the line were a type of military police. They would grab the papers from the men, read them, then sometimes they would begin shouting at them and hitting them with bamboo canes.

My curiosity got the best of me. I could not figure out what these men were doing; why they were just taking the beating and not fighting back. It took me awhile but I finally found someone to ask who spoke English. This older gentleman explained there was a small election being held that day. Not a big one, just local matters, and also picking a new village leader, equivalent to what we would call a mayor.

The men who were standing in line were holding their ballets. They were required to be filled out in advance before coming to vote. The local police were allowed to check the ballots. They could not stop them from voting, but they could beat on them and try to intimidate them into leaving. The man I was speaking with explained to me that once you have your ballet and get in line, if you leave for any reason you can not get back in line.

I sat there and watched this for a while. Some of the men could barely stand — they had been beaten so hard — but still they did not leave. They were willing to take whatever beatings they had to cast their vote. One of the men had a friend who was unconscious who he was helping hold up, just in the off chance he came to before they reached the end of the line when it was time to vote.

As I watched this injustice unfold in front of me I realized one thing: I had never voted in my life. I was only 20 years old, but two election years had passed me by. These men were willing to risk their well-being to cast a vote in a small-town election. Yet in my country the election board was willing to deliver me a ballet in the mail or provide me with a local safe place to cast my vote. No one would hit me, or even scream at me at the ballet box. It simply would not be allowed.

Why is it that we live in a country where we the people are allowed to cast a vote, yet so few of us participate? The numbers are even worse on non-presidential elections. Sometimes the local elections we hold every year in our towns will affect us more than the national elections.

I always think about that little sticker the precinct workers give voters at the polling stations. It’s just a silly thing, really, but it means a lot.

I’m always sad by the end of Election Day when my little sticker is worn out and I have to throw it away. I sometimes wish it would last as long as my vote. I wish I could wear it proudly all year. Then, when I hear someone complaining about the conditions of their city or state I could check for their sticker. If I didn’t see one I could ask them, “If you care so much about this cause, why didn’t you vote?”

I think about those men in that tiny village all those years ago. I wondered how they would feel to see so many of us take for granted something that meant so much to them. I wonder how they knew the importance of their vote. There were no stickers handed out in those villages. No one was there to thank them for their vote. Some of those men will feel their beatings for the rest of their lives. Years later as they work to improve their tiny part of the world, their kids can ask them, “What did you do to make my life better, Dad? What were you willing to risk?”

Those men can reply, “I risked everything, and I have the scars to prove it.”

Dan Adams
Dan Adams has been a licensed plumbing contractor for nearly 30 years. He owns and operates Edgewood Plumbing  in Redding with his wife, Holly. In 2000 he and Holly moved to Redding from the Bay Area in search of a better place to raise their sons.
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15 Responses

  1. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    The only downside to voting by mail is that we don’t have an “I Voted” sticker to wear.

  2. Frank Treadway Frank Treadway says:

    Many elections are won or lost by one single vote, this is the year to make your vote count. Monday, October 22 is the last day to register to vote. Go to your county election department and sign up. Many persons think they get jury duty if they register to vote, not so. that happens from your driver’s license. And you can vote by mail in the comfy of your home, make your voice heard.

    • Avatar Jamie Hannigan says:

      One can register to vote and vote at the elections office right up to, and including on, Election Day. It’s called Conditional Voter Reg. I would hate for someone to miss the opportunity to register and vote because they think 10/22 is their last opportunity. Also, just to be transparent, voter reg info IS sent to the courts for jury duty.

  3. Avatar Peggy Elwood says:

    I too like those little stickers and always vote in person. When I come home I affix my sticker each time on my washing machine.where I see them everyday…

  4. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    Many American voters believe their vote doesn’t matter so they don’t vote. If you are a Republican in California, largest state, or a Democrat in Wyoming, smallest state, this is true on the national scale. Where the vote counts, especially in the midterms, is the lower ballot local offices.
    A voter marks their ballot and they know who is running for the major offices, but when it comes to the school board, county clerk, judges or dog catcher, they haven’t a clue and just pick somebody they never heard of. Those local offices are more important than national offices, in big cities or small. A local school board can make policies that affect the whole town, as fire district officials or even the head librarian can. Those smaller offices are where one vote can make a difference that affects the whole city or county. Look at all the trouble that has been caused nationally by small county or city clerks.

  5. AJ AJ says:

    I found a way to preach silently.. . .(one of the few thingsI’ve ever done silently). I put those little stickers on the outside of my roll book. It’s usually visible on my piano or on my desk. I want every kid to know that I think voting is important. . . . even, or maybe especially, my primary students.

    I do vote “by mail” but I usually deliver my ballot to the polling place down the street from me (saves me a stamp) AND I get a sticker!!

  6. Avatar sue says:

    A powerful experience. Wish everyone in the US could read this!

  7. Tom O'Mara Tom O'Mara says:

    I will give out the stickers at our polling place with a little more gusto because of your article!

    • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

      Of course it would be impossible, but it would be nice if stickers were available at the drop box at the Civic Center, sort of like the Take-A-Number dispensaries in some stores. That’s where I place our ballots, generally on a Sunday when we come down from the hill.

      • Avatar Jamie Hannigan says:

        Beverly, you can always drop your envelope off at the elections office at 1643 Market Street. We’ll give you a sticker!

        • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

          Thanks, Jamie. It’s just that the drop box is very close to our Redding place, and I can do a drive by on my way to home #2 without stopping and having to find a parking place downtown. Maybe I’ll make my own I Have Voted sticker with my color printer. Although I don’t keep it in my wallet, like Doug Mudford, I keep the tear-off strip until after the election. And unfortunately, after this past election, I tossed it in my recycle bin along with the lottery tickets that had the same fate: no winners.

  8. Avatar Doug Mudford says:

    Thank you Dan

    What a stunning visual. We voted last week by mail…I like the little strip that confirms I voted. I kept it in my wallet for a couple of days…just for me. By the way, I’m happy with plumber who has bailed me out over the years but if he retires, you’re first on the list.


  9. Steve DuBois Steve DuBois says:

    Like Tom O’Mara, I too, will feel proud to hand out the stickers at my polling place. Good article.

  10. Frank Treadway Frank Treadway says:

    Jamie, double check with the Election Dept., last time I checked, was told that jury duty was from one’s driver’s license, not voter registration form.