So far, so good: People are voting
Let’s look at the bright side in this year filled with hardship, sorrow and acrimony. People are voting peacefully in high numbers, while two candidates in Utah are showing it’s still possible to treat an opponent — and the process — with respect.
By the end of Wednesday, 44 million Americans had already voted, according to University of Florida professor Michael McDonald and his U.S. Elections Project website. That’s 31.9% of the total votes cast in 2016. A little more than 32 million votes had been cast by mail.
In Arkansas, 280,919 people had already cast ballots, 203,731 of them in person. That’s almost half the 590,667 early and absentee votes cast in 2016.
McDonald projects 150 million Americans will vote in this year’s election — about 13 million more than voted for president in 2016.
This could be the highest turnout election in many decades, which is a hopeful sign long term. We may argue with each other on Facebook and at the dinner table, but Americans mostly are still treating each other respectfully as they stand in line at the polls to cast their ballots safely and privately.
We should not take this for granted. In the United States, voting might require some patience. Elsewhere — and earlier in our own history — people have died for this opportunity.
There must be several reasons for this high early voting turnout. Many Americans are voting by mail to avoid potential exposure to COVID-19. States have made mail-in voting easier and more available. The pandemic, the economy, and this year’s racial unrest have surely reminded Americans that the stakes are high. President Trump is a polarizing figure who inspires people to vote for him or against him.
Another factor is that habits are changing as Americans grow accustomed to voting early. In Arkansas, almost 93,000 more people voted early or absentee in 2016 than did in 2012. It’s possible that we don’t really have that many more voters, but instead just earlier ones.
The conventional wisdom is that a higher turnout helps Democrats, but Trump has a habit of turning conventional wisdom on its head, so we’ll see. More Democrats apparently are voting early than Republicans so far, but the conventional wisdom also says that Democrats tend to be more wary of this unfortunately politicized coronavirus. They’ll vote early and absentee, while Trump supporters who don’t trust mail-in ballots will close the gap at the polls on Election Day.
Again, that’s conventional wisdom, for what it’s worth.
The bad news is that both sides will be deploying armies of lawyers to scrutinize those 32 million and counting mail-in votes. They’ll be looking for any reason to disqualify a ballot: if a signature has changed over the past 20 years, if the voter signed “Steve” instead of “Steven,” and if he or she failed to include a date in the right place.
For all of those reasons, I’ll be putting on my mask and heading to the polls early, now that the lines may be shortening.
Let’s end this column on a high note. Do yourself a favor and watch online the ads filmed jointly in the Utah governor’s race by the Republican, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, and the Democrat, Chris Peterson. The two are socially distanced but say they “stand united” in their commitment to disagree respectfully and to abide by the election’s results. In a couple of the ads, they close by individually identifying themselves and then saying in unison, “We approve this message.”
Granted, the race is not expected to be close in heavily Republican Utah, so the candidates haven’t drawn as much blood as they might have. Maybe things like this are just easier in that state, where most people share the same religion — Mormonism — and ethnic heritage.
Still, despite competing for the same office, they seem to respect and even like each other.
That’s nice to see, and it’s a message we should hear, and share, more often.
Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist in Arkansas. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.