In the Brazilian Amazon a 1000 mile journey so people can.jpgw1440

In the Brazilian Amazon, a 1,000-mile journey so people can choose

MANAUS, Brazil – In most democracies, citizens go to the polls. But in the sparsely populated Amazon region of Brazil, the polls often go to the voters.

Most people in the vast rainforest live in urban areas, but thousands live in tiny villages several days by boat from the nearest town. Amazonas, Brazil’s largest state, is three times the size of California but has only about a third the population of Greater Los Angeles. More than half of the cities have no road access at all, and some are hundreds of kilometers from the state capital, Manaus.

The logistics are a challenge even in Manaus, a sprawling municipality of 2.2 million people. On Saturday, The Associated Press accompanied poll workers to set up a polling station in the community of Bela Vista do Jaraqui, a three-hour boat ride from the city.

“During this campaign, no candidate has emerged here,” João Moraes de Souza, a local fisherman and smallholder, told The Associated Press. “If nobody comes during the election campaign, you can imagine that afterwards.”

One of the poll workers was Ana Lúcia Salazar de Souza. Due to the distance, her team, including police officers, would spend the night in temporary accommodation and return to Manaus on Sunday after voting ended in the afternoon.

“There are many difficulties,” she said. “But participating in this process of citizenship is worthwhile.”

Collecting voices in the remote region of the Javari Valley in the Amazon is even harder – but less so in recent years thanks to the efforts of Bruno Pereira, the indigenous expert who was murdered this year alongside British journalist Dom Phillips.

Until 2012, the region’s only voting centers were in the city of Atalaia do Norte. That year, a mayoral candidate distributed gasoline to about 1,200 indigenous people from the Javari Valley Indigenous Territory so they could make the multi-day trip downriver to vote.

However, the candidate had not provided enough fuel for the return journey. They were stranded on the riverbanks for weeks without proper sanitation, leading to a rotavirus outbreak. Five Kanamari babies died and about 100 people were hospitalized.

At the time, Pereira headed the local office of the Brazilian Agency for Indigenous Affairs. He provided them with food and water and coordinated a quarantine to prevent the virus from reaching tribal villages. He and local indigenous leaders later developed a plan to transport electronic voting machines to remote villages.

“Bruno wrote all the technical parts,” Jader Marubo, then president of the local indigenous association, told AP.

Villages in the Javari Valley received their first voting centers in 2014. To get a voting machine to the farthest village of Vida Nova, election officials typically fly in a small plane from Manaus to Cruzeiro do Sul, a city in Acre state. There they board a helicopter for the final leg. It’s a 1,000-mile round trip to reach a place of 327 voters in a nation with an electorate of more than 150 million people.

But in a democracy every vote counts – underscored by recent opinion polls suggesting former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva could win a first-round victory without an Oct. 30 runoff against incumbent Jair Bolsonaro.

This year, the Javari Valley Territory has seven voting centers for 1,655 indigenous voters. In August, the regional electoral authority building in Atalaia do Norte was renamed Bruno Pereira. ___

Maisonnave reported from Rio de Janeiro.

The Associated Press’s climate and environmental reporting is supported by several private foundations. Learn more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.