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Ballot box: Adults only, please

Bill Hudgins

A friend of mine has a genuine Florida voting machine, complete with chads, which are about the size of the head of an eight-penny nail.

He collects political memorabilia, so when the Sunshine State sold its old machines after the 2000 election, he snapped one up. It’s a reminder that little things can swing an election, and that every vote counts. He should know, because he was deeply involved in the last presidential election.

By the time many of you read this, you’ll be up against a deadline to register to vote, or maybe past it.

If you are registered, it’s time to vote absentee ballot, in case you spend Election Day whiling away on-duty hours outside some frozen-food warehouse.

If you plan to sit this one out, you’ll be part of a growing majority. Yeah, people will give you a hard time: “If you didn’t vote, you can’t complain!”

I used to think that, but someone I respect a lot recently changed my mind.

“We don’t want people who don’t care, who can’t make a tough choice between candidates they don’t like much, to vote,” he said.

Too many people have fought, suffered and died for the vote — and still are — to cheapen it by browbeating folks who don’t care to enter that tiny private space where miracles sometimes happen.

I first “voted” in 1956, when my grandfather took me into the booth down at the city hall in my tiny Virginia hometown. I was 7, and Pop explained that Ike was a good guy, and that he wanted to vote for him, but he couldn’t stand that vice president fellow.

“Never vote for Richard Nixon,” Pop instructed me solemnly.

I broke a lot of other promises to him, but that’s one I kept.

I stood on tiptoe as Pop helped me pencil an X beside Adlai Stevenson’s name. Pop’s last name was Stephenson, so I thought he was a cousin and we’d get to go to the White House if he won.

Voting was exciting for this little boy — it was like being an adult for a few minutes.

A few years later, voting became a life-and-death matter. Surly men in shiny satin robes and funny hats paraded grimly through our streets and elsewhere, and our black-and-white TV showed black-and-white battles in far-away cities.

Men and women who had always been treated as children laid it all on the line to become adults, to enter that voting booth, free from fear.

Free from fear … This fall’s election has a big fat target painted on it, by grim, surly men who may be skulking through our streets and planning terror, as they did in Spain.

Somehow, I don’t see fear keeping many truck drivers from voting.

And I don’t think many will stay away because they don’t care. Most do care — so deeply that it hurts to think they vote in vain, that the ballot box is another place where they’re just a number bouncing around in a lottery. And every truck driver makes a thousand hard choices every day.

Sure, we want our candidates to win. But in America, voting is about more than who wins or loses.

It’s a fundamental expression of who we are — just like piling up those safe miles, making those on-time deliveries, putting food on the table, doing the job day in and day out.

Voting defies those who said we couldn’t last. And it separates the adult from the little kid standing on tiptoe and pretending to be a grown up.

Until next time, be safe, make money and get home often.

Bill Hudgins can be reached at