Photos: An 18-Hour Odyssey to Vote in Brazil

Brazilians are registered in their local municipalities, so they must return to those locations on election day—even if it takes them nearly a full day to do so.
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At the end of October, Brazil experienced one of the most momentous political shifts in the country’s history, as far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro won the presidential election. While much of the media coverage has focused on the impact the election was having in major cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, freelance correspondent Shannon Sims took a more unusual route for Pacific Standard—one that led her into the heart of the Amazon.

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The Michael was brimming with people on their way to vote in the presidential election. Each person set up a hammock on the boat, which became a kind of home base for the long hours of travel.

The Michael was brimming with people on their way to vote in the presidential election. Each person set up a hammock on the boat, which became a kind of home base for the long hours of travel.

Voting in Brazil is mandatory. If you don't vote, and haven't obtained prior permission to skip the election, you face a cascade of problems: You get flagged across government systems, and paying taxes or even buying a microwave becomes complicated. But voting also doesn't seem like such an inconvenience when everyone is doing it.

Docking at one of the many ribeirinho communities along the Michael's path to São Pedro.

Docking at one of the many ribeirinho communities along the Michael's path to São Pedro.

Election day is always Sunday, and so if you're not standing in line to vote on that day, you're out of the loop. As in the U.S., Brazilians are registered in their local municipalities, and so they must return to those locations on election day—even if it takes them 18 hours round-trip to do so.

Maria Aparecida de Aquino is a schoolteacher who takes the boat Michael twice a month so she can restock supplies her students. She voted for leftist Fernando Haddad.

Maria Aparecida de Aquino is a schoolteacher who takes the boat Michael twice a month so she can restock supplies her students. She voted for leftist Fernando Haddad.

Time ticks by slowly on the boat, but the passengers seem altogether unruffled by the commute.

Dominoes is the most popular pastime aboard the Michael.

Dominoes is the past-time of choice aboard the Michael.

"I think Bolsonaro will end the welfare program, and I think he won't let us live in the settlement anymore," one passenger said. "I think he would end up being the worst president in the history of Brazil."

Voting in Brazil's presidential election — Livaldo Sarmento greets villagers from a neighboring community along the Arapiuns River. Many of the ribeirinhos along the river know each other from trips on the boats.

Livaldo Sarmento greets villagers from a neighboring community along the Arapiuns River. Many of the ribeirinhos along the river know each other from trips on the boats.

Families in São Pedro pack up their things and head to the Michael on election day. Many of the people leaving São Pedro were hoping to make it back to Santarem in time for the coming work week.

Families in São Pedro pack up their things and head to the Michael on election day. Many of the people leaving São Pedro were hoping to make it back to Santarem in time for the coming work week.

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