I mark my choices at my dining room table. Then I slip the ballot into the special voting envelope, which I sign and seal. My husband or I, depending on for whom it is most convenient, will later deliver our envelopes to the downtown early voter drop-off center, where we always make sure to ask for extra “I voted” stickers.

I wear a sticker daily through election day. When I affix a sticker to my shirt just over my heart, I always think of a woman I met in Johannesburg on April 27, 1994 – the day of South Africa’s first all-race elections. She stood in line all morning waiting to vote. When she finally got to the head of the line, she was told her identification was insufficient _ hundreds of thousands of black South Africans lacked official identity books at the time. An election officials volunteered to take her to the nearest station where she could get temporary identity papers that would allow her to vote. She did that and got back in line, where I found her as I interviewed voters for an article about that historic day. She told me she enjoyed every moment in line, chatting with black and white voters, relishing the moment, feeling for the first time like a citizen of her homeland.

I wear my stickers in her celebratory mood. I also wear them in memory of the South Africans who struggled and died so that that patient woman could cast her vote, and the Americans who struggled and died so that I can cast mine.

Hope is essential to democracy. That doesn’t mean failing to acknowledge challenges. But pessimism can also be blind, keeping us from seeing what can be done and making inaction seem virtuous. 

So I also wear my stickers as a plea to others to willingly suspend the cynicism that is at the heart of so much of our disengagement from politics.