With early voting this year, many of you may have already cast your ballot. This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, states that haven’t previously allowed early voting or mail in voting, like Kentucky, have been doing so.
This is a practice that we can’t endorse enough.
Voting is a right that our ancestors have fought and died for. The Revolutionary War was premised on the issue of “no taxation without representation” and since the end of that conflict voting for those representatives has been a sacrosanct feature of American culture. Once only the privilege of wealthy, land owning men, over the years folks have continued the fight to expand the voice of the people through the vote.
It wasn’t too long ago that our mothers, sisters, and wives won the right to vote and have their voices heard. In fact, 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment – ratified by Tennessee in August of 1920- which granted women the same basic rights enjoyed by men.
African-American men and other minorities have enjoyed the right to vote a little longer. It was the 15th Amendment, adopted in 1870, that gave black men the right to vote in theory. But it wasn’t until 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was passed, that barriers to that right were outlawed in some areas of the Jim Crow South.
Things like literacy tests, poll taxes, and other impediments to the black vote might be illegal today, but that doesn’t stop things like long lines at the polls and reduced numbers of polling places in black communities from serving as de facto obstacles to the vote today.
And it isn’t just black folks who have to worry about it. These same issues can contribute to reduced voter participation in poor and rural communities as well. It’s one reason why access to early voting and mail-in ballots are so important to the process today.
Some have expressed concerns about voter fraud with mail-in ballots, and we’ve seen a few horror stories about mail carriers dumping ballots en masse. But those serving overseas in the United States Armed Services, young people studying at out of state colleges, and Americans working out of state or overseas have been able to request mail-in absentee ballots for decades.
Allowing this form of participation is a proven method of ensuring voters have a say in how their communities states and the nation are represented. There are risks that have to be looked at, to be sure, but there is a system already in place for absentee ballots that is proven to work, and it is no more inherently risky than the possibilities of hacking associated with digital voting machines.
Some have suggested making Election Day a federal holiday. One where folks are given a paid day off to participate in the electoral process.
This is a suggestion that we’d also support, but it doesn’t solve the issue entirely. In fact, it would continue to limit voting to those privileged enough to work a job that allowed them to have the day off. Those who work in service industries would still have to report to work, and then try to find time to stand in line during their limited time to exercise their rights. When you add to this problems with finding child care, transportation issues, and reduced numbers of polling places, it alone isn’t enough to solve the problem.
Early voting, however, along with official ballot drop boxes at court houses and mail-in ballots, all can help to improve voter participation and ensure that all Americans, regardless of their race, sex, age, physical ability, or economic status, can have their voices heard on Election Day when the ballots are tallied.
Early voting has already been working well in other states for some time, and if any good can come from the COVID-19 pandemic, making early voting and drop-off ballots a continuing part of the process in Kentucky and other states that haven’t previously allowed early voting might be it.
That, we think, would be the best thing Americans could do to assure the continued health or our republic and the democratic process. It’s why we wholeheartedly endorse the expansion of early voting in Kentucky and the United States.