Our View: Hail to the de­ter­mined early vot­ers

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS -

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 first 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, officials 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 efforts 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 reflects 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 effec­tively 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.

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