My daughter called from Argentina the other day, relieved to report that she’d finally received her absentee ballot. We requested it weeks ago and she was starting to worry it wouldn’t get to her in time. This will be the first Presidential election in which she’s been old enough to vote and she’s extremely excited about that. She’s taking the whole thing very seriously. She even went online to research the unfamiliar candidates on the ballot, so she could make informed decisions.
So it was a huge shock when a friend, who is also studying abroad, told her not to bother sending her ballot back via regular Argentinean mail. Apparently, the mail service there is unreliable and quite a bit of mail never makes it to its destination. And it’s so slow that even if the ballot were to make it all the way to the U.S., it would be too late to count. Her only option would be to send it via UPS. And doing that would cost the equivalent of fifty US dollars.
I can’t even describe how upset she was to learn this. She’s a college student on a tight budget and has pretty much accounted for every conceivable expense while abroad, including extracurricular travel she hopes to do. She’s counting every penny until she comes home and can get a part time job to earn spending money again. She doesn’t have an extra fifty bucks just sitting around. So she asked me what I thought she should do. Take a chance on the Argentinean mail system? Spend the money on UPS? Or just not vote?
We discussed that last option first. Talked about the cynicism of whether one vote really made a difference, whether or not it would even matter if she voted. She told me again how important this was to her, to finally vote in a Presidential election. How much she had been looking forward to it, how much it mattered to her. She debated taking her chances with regular mail, and realized how unacceptable it would be to never know whether or not her ballot had been received. And she agonized over the significant expense of doing what was required to make sure her vote was counted, that her voice was heard.
So I suggested maybe it would help to put it in a broader perspective. To think about what others had sacrificed, throughout history, in order to vote. To consider what others had been willing to pay for the privilege. How the colonists had defied king and country and gone to war for the right to have a representative government. How women risked reputation and imprisonment to obtain that right. How African Americans risked their safety, their very lives, in that struggle to have a voice. So many people in our country’s history have been willing, have found it necessary, to risk everything for a privilege we now take for granted. And I told her something I truly believe: if you fail to exercise your rights, fail to live up to the responsibilities that come with those rights, you risk losing them.
She decided to pay the fifty dollars. She gets a sticker.
You might wonder why I didn’t offer to pay it for her, or at least offer to chip in. There are two reasons. First, because she didn’t ask. She didn’t come looking for a handout, she came to me for advice. I’m proud of her for that. Second, and more important, because every time she votes in the years to come, I hope she will remember the time she had to pay a price that, at the time, was a dear one. And remember why she decided it was important to do so.