Our View: Hail to the determined early voters
Amid a terrifying pandemic, in the face of blatant voter suppression attempts and with deep concerns about the direction of their country, Americans are going to the polls in record numbers.
As of Wednesday, more than 75 million voters had already cast ballots, according to the U. S. Elections Project. This year, for the first time, more people will vote before Election Day than on Election Day:
• In Washington state, the early vote in this year’s general election has been nearly triple what it was at this point in 2016, even though nothing has changed in the way the vote is conducted ( by mail).
• In Florida, the early vote has been phenomenal among both Democrats and Republicans — the former voting mostly by mail ballots, the latter more in person.
• In Texas, a growing population and a surge in participation rates have produced jaw- dropping numbers. The early vote count, more than 8 million as of Wednesday, was on track to surpass the 2016 total vote of just under 9 million. Some estimates put this year’s total vote as high as 12 million.
Let us pause for a moment to recognize that all these people voting is an inspiring sign. By turning out in record numbers even before Election Day, they are showing their patriotism and commitment to democracy.
Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean they should have to wait in line for hours as many have.
In some cases, the lines can be attributed to pure incompetence. In New York, for instance, officials have seemingly learned little from the disastrous primary or the examples of other states. Election organizers could not open enough locations to prevent several- hour lines in many New York City voting places.
In other states, the lines are partly a function of efforts to make it hard to vote. In Texas, voters have no choice but to wait in line because the state refused to expand mail balloting beyond seniors and few others. Texas law forces people to take greater risks to vote than they are comfortable with in other aspects of their lives.
In one community in Georgia, voters waited eight hours to vote earlier this month. Eight hours! The lack of polling places in urban and suburban areas reflects a keen interest by the Republican- controlled state government to suppress the vote in areas with high numbers of Democrats.
In the 2018 midterm elections, Georgia was so aggressive at rejecting absentee ballots over signatures that don’t look quite right, or other issues, that it might well have changed the outcome of a close congressional race. Rejections were high again this year in the state’s troubled primary.
The Georgia experience underscores that many of the people who are voting in such large numbers are not voting in spite of the obstacles but because of them. Try to keep people from voting, and people will want to vote. It’s just human nature.
Beyond surmounting obstacles, many voters are expressing concerns about America’s direction and the government’s failure to deal effectively with the pandemic. They are responding in the best way possible, with the most important tool at their disposal.
Early voters line up in Austin, Texas.