Yesterday was Election Day in South Africa for National and Provincial elections.
On Facebook and then in person, I started to see people’s thumbs with black ink marks indicating that people had voted.
In the United States, after casting our votes, we are given stickers we can wear if we wish to show that we voted.
When I explained that people in the US wear stickers to show they voted, people here expressed surprise: But people can take the sticker off! What prevents them from voting again?
In South Africa, the mark on the thumb is for the prevention of fraudulent voting. After your name is verified on the voting rolls and the barcode on your ID card is scanned, a person marks your thumb in indelible ink. Then you cast your ballot. If you try to vote again, someone can see that you’ve already been marked.
I explained that the purpose of the I Voted sticker isn’t to prevent fraud, it’s to show that you voted. It’s a witness of sorts.
True, people posting pictures of their marked thumbs on Facebook also serves as a witness: I voted. I participated. I made my mark. But the original purpose of the mark is different.
My friend Claire Nye Hunter (whose thumb is pictured in the featured image—thank you Claire!) explained that the mark takes a long time to wear off. The ink on the skin below one’s nail wears off first, but only after a while. The ink on the nail has to grow out. She said you will see the mark go up your nail as your nail grows. It takes about 6 months until you don’t see it anymore.
I usually take my I Voted sticker off when I get home. Sometimes I just lose it during the day and I wonder what it got stuck on and if it will turn up again somewhere on my outfit or in my office or car. I know I vote, but there’s no indelible mark, no reminder that I voted that lasts for months, well into the time that those elected are now serving.
What difference would it make, I wonder, if every time I looked at my own hand, at least for many months, I thought, I voted for this. Or, I voted against this. Or, I took this responsibility seriously. Or, I get to vote ?
All of this wondering about indelible marks reminds me of one of the images of God in the Bible I find most stunning. It’s from Isaiah 49:15-16
But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.’
Can a woman forget her nursing-child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.
God will not forget you. You are inscribed on the palms of God’s hands.
We are marked indelibly on God’s hands. Not for 6 months. Not until the ink fades. For ever. Continually.
Shepherds mark their sheep to show the sheep belong to them.
In a stunning reversal, we aren’t marked with God’s name. God is marked with us; the Shepherd is marked with the names of the sheep. Of course it’s an anthropomorphism, but what a way to express our belonging, God’s claiming us, God’s willingness to be reminded every day of us and God’s relationship with us, that God has participated, made a choice, takes this responsibility seriously: I choose you.
Stickers can be removed. Even indelible ink fades. Scars remain.
There’s a cost in God’s taking us as God’s responsibility, choosing us, inscribing us indelibly onto the palm of God’s hands. No fraud. Witness: