Election 2020

They Can’t Stop Me From Voting: “It Took Me 9 Hours to Earn My ‘I VOTED’ Sticker”

He waited in line, in Cobb County, for hours

People line up for early voting on October 19, 2020 in Columbia, South Carolina. Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

This is one of the most important elections of my lifetime. I wouldn’t be denied. Nor was I going to take a chance with a drop box or mailing a ballot that may never get counted. I was going to take my place in a very long line on the first day of early voting in Georgia to have my say.

I live in Cobb County, Georgia, a Republican stronghold. I have voted here since 1993. For the longest time, during an election, there would only be 10 or 15 or 20 people who looked like me, standing in a relatively long line of a couple hundred White people, if not more. Yet something has shifted in the demographic here in our part of the county. Nearly 80% of voters in the line on this day are Black and Brown — men and women of all ages. We knew the significance of having our say, no matter how long it was going to take. As I looked at the faces and saw the resolve, I knew there wasn’t going to be any voter suppression in this line. We all came ready, and hour after hour, we stood tall. At hour two, my knees and back reminded me that they are not what they used to be, but getting out of line was not an option.

It was daylight when I arrived, and now it was dark. I finally got inside to cast my ballot.

I was born in 1956, and raised in Gary, Indiana, in the ’60s and ’70s. Voting has always been part of my DNA. I was with my parents—a teacher and a steel mill worker—as they cast their ballot to elect our first Black mayor, Richard G. Hatcher. I was a little boy, but I knew how important this moment was. And I had seen what it looked like when an angry, racist political system denied us the right to vote. Angry White mobs, police with fire hoses, billy clubs, and vicious dogs, all standing between Black America and their votes. Even the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would not truly protect our rights. Decades later, we still face voter suppression in so many ways.

One hour turned into two. My knees and lower back are not what they used to be, but getting out of line isn’t an option. By hour five, word circulated that the lines were moving so slowly because of voting machine malfunctions. We’ve never had this here before. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a coincidence or a way to get us to lose patience and just go home. Is this what voter suppression looks like in real time? Or was it the threat of towing voters’ cars parked in the neighborhoods near the polling place? Suppression comes in many forms, but for all of us at this polling place, we had resolve.

It took nine hours and seven minutes for me to earn my “I VOTED” sticker.

By hour six, I started posting pictures and comments on my phone to social media. At hour seven, people standing nearby were becoming more like family than random strangers out here voting, even with masks and a strained six-foot distance. Everybody had a story. Everybody had a why. At one point, a young lady who stood behind me pointed to a wall and said, “Go sit down. Please get some rest. You are my parents’ age, and if they were here, I’d be doing the same thing.” If you watch the news, you’d think that this election has stolen all of our compassion, kindness, and decency. This day told a different story.

It was daylight when I arrived, and now it was dark. I finally got inside to cast my ballot. As the lines thinned out, I didn’t get the loud cheers and applause that those who moved through the lines earlier did, but I did get a few claps. It took nine hours and seven minutes for me to earn my “I VOTED” sticker. And yes, I earned it.

Later in the week, I made sure that my mother-in-law voted in Fulton County, where it took her seven minutes. Then I took my wife and daughter to the polls, where it took about 20 minutes. I even drove to the University of Georgia to pick up my youngest daughter so she could exercise her right to vote. When there are no broken voting machines or no challenges to the process, it doesn’t take hours.

I wouldn’t change one second of my time on the front lines. Everybody I met in line was bonded by a unity of thought and purpose. I voted for not just me, but also for my late father, who would often tell me, “I do this for you.” And sadly, I cast my vote for my mother, a lifelong voter who died of Covid-19 on April 3 of this year. No voter suppression was going to stop me.

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