Would you spend $1,800 on an airplane ticket, or drive 18 hours so that you can vote? If you lived abroad, would you care so much about your vote that you'd rent a plane to take you to a voting station back at home?
It sounds surreal. But this is precisely what thousands of Venezuelans are doing in the run-up to that country's Presidential election, which takes place on Sunday.
President Hugo Chavez, the socialist leader who has been in power for 14 years, is running against a young state governor called Henrique Capriles, who has energized voters that want to change how things are run in Venezuela.
An estimated 1.2 million Venezuelans live overseas, in countries like the U.S, Spain and Colombia. Analysts believe that they mostly sympathize with Henrique Capriles, and his promises to ease government controls on media, spur private investment in the country and tackle the country's high crime rate.
But Venezuela has no absentee ballots. And even though the country allows its citizens to vote at the country's consulates and embassies overseas some Venezuelans who support Capriles -- and can afford to travel back home -- told us that they have chosen to forgo this option because they think that consulate officials, who tend to support the Chavez government, will not properly count their votes.
Meanwhile, twenty thousand Venezuelan voters who were registered to vote in Miami, were left without a local voting station earlier this year after the Venezuelan government shut down its Miami consulate. They were told by Venezuelan officials to vote in Venezuela's consulate in New Orleans, 860 miles away.
ABC/Univision talked to Venezuelans who will be taking flights from Miami, San Francisco, New York, and as far away as Tokyo, just so they can vote.
We asked them what motivated them, to, literally, go the extra mile.
|Elizabeth Nevett, lives in New York|
Elizabeth Nevett has had a tough time focusing on her studies recently. The 26-year-old NYU student says that she can't stop thinking about the upcoming elections in her native Venezuela.
"I feel optimistic about these elections, " said Nevett, who supports opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. "But there's always that uncertainty over whether the government will accept the results, whether they will cheat, or what will happen the day after the elections."
Nevett has been living in New York since April, where she is pursuing a masters in public administration. To make sure that her vote gets counted in this election, she decided to head to Caracas, instead of registering to vote at the Venezuelan consulate in New York.
"The votes abroad are the ones that get counted last, sometimes they only get counted after [election] results are declared." said Nevett, who spent $1,000 on her ticket to Caracas. Elizabeth arrives in Caracas Friday at 11 p.m. and will head back to New York early Monday morning.
|Maria Nevett, lives in Cartagena, Colombia|
Maria Nevett is Elizabeth's aunt. She has been living in Cartagena for the past two years, where she owns a popular ice cream shop.
Maria shelled out $1,200 for the two-hour flight from Cartagena to Caracas, via Bogota. This fee is three times greater than the usual fare for such a flight.
"There were very few spots left on the flight due to the large number of Venezuelans who are flying home to vote," Maria said.
"But I'm travelling cause I think that every vote is important for the future of Venezuela," said Maria, who added that her family helped her with the airfare.
|Andres Morrison, lives in Miami|
Andres Morrison is helping hundreds of Venezuelans who live in Miami to vote via a project called Aerovotar.
This non-profit initiative has raised enough money in the past three months to rent six planes that will fly Miami Venezuelans to the country's consulate in New Orleans.
"We couldn't stand here with our arms crossed," Andres said over the phone. Almost twenty thousand Venezuelans who live in Miami and were registered to vote in that city's consulate were told by the Venezuelan government to vote in the New Orleans consulate, after Venezuela's Miami consulate was shut down in January.
But Andres argues that shutting down the consulate in Miami was no excuse for the Venezuelan government to force its citizens to go all the way to New Orleans to vote. "The [Venezuelan] government could've set up voting centers in the Orange Bowl, and other locations, as they had done in previous elections."
The Aerovotar project has had great demand among Miami Venezuelans who want to vote, but have little time to drive to New Orleans, or cannot afford to purchase their own flight to that city. Andres can afford to take 1,212 Venezuelans to New Orleans on six charter flights, but has almost 1,800 voters in his waiting list. "I steer them to other projects, like Votodondesea, [which is busing people to New Orleans]" Andres said.
|Alberto Cantor, lives in San Francisco|
Alberto Cantor recently attained a masters in digital marketing from the Hult International Business School. He could've tried to register to vote at the Venezuelan consulate in San Francisco. Instead, he decided to keep his spot at a Caracas voting center, even if that means he'll have to travel almost 4,000 miles to vote.
"I never changed my voting location because I strongly believe that you should return to your country to vote, even if it's just for one day," Alberto said.
On election day, Alberto will volunteer at an election monitoring center run by the Venezuelan opposition. He plans watch the results at home, with his family. "We've always had the tradition of gathering in front of the TV in our living room to watch the results. I'm hoping that this time we will do the same thing, and that we will be able to watch a true change in the history of the country."
|Isabela Villanueva lives in Sao Paulo, Brasil|
Isabella recently moved to Brasil to be the Assistant Curator at the 30th Sao Paulo Biennial. But the 32-year-old has been living abroad for almost a decade.
"I decided to vote in Caracas because I'm always travelling for work so I wasn't sure where I was going to be," commented Villanueva, who arrived in the capital on Wednesday to prepare for the elections on Sunday.
She believes that it's every Venezuelans responsibility to vote in these presidential elections. "If you want to change the country you have to make an effort to vote to make a difference," she said, "also you have to set an example for future generations that might not feel so patriotic because they've grown up in the shadow of what this country once was."
Isabela added that she hasn't lost hope for her country and she believes that Venezuela will become a better and safer country soon.
|Cristina Carvallo lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina|
Cristina moved to Buenos Aires in February when her company, Diageo, transferred her for a year.
"Since I only had a month to register I didn't want to risk something going wrong and not having enough time to fix the problem," she explained, "Also I've heard too many rumors about votes not being counted when you vote abroad, I didn't want to risk it."
Cristina's move to Argentina is not permanent; she hopes to return to a country that will offer better opportunities for its younger generations. "For the country to change we all have to do our part, on Sunday I will vote and I will also be working at a monitoring center run by the opposition."
|Martha Rodriguez lives in Miami, Florida.|
Martha left Venezuela four years ago to pursue a career in hospitality management at Florida International University.
"I believe that voting is the least that those of use living abroad can do to help better the situation Venezuela is currently in," she said.
Although the 26-year-old tried to register to vote in Miami, the change never went through. "Once I realized that I wasn't going to be able to vote in Miami I bought my ticket to Venezuela. This was in February, I wanted to be prepared," she explained.
Martha said she knows at least 30 other people who are travelling to Venezuela to vote on Sunday. "It's important to vote, we all have to do our part for our country," she added.