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We should all be able to agree that Americans should not have to wait in line for 11 hours to vote. To be fair, the long waits in Georgia on Monday seemed to be a temporary problem that was remedied later in the week. However, the fact that long lines in some places continue to be a problem election after election rightly raises concerns about voter suppression.
There were long lines and equipment problems during Georgia’s June primary and allegations of fraud and voter suppression surrounded the 2018 governor’s race, which was narrowly won by Republican Brian Kemp, who was Georgia’s secretary of state during the election.
Election officials have known for months that interest in this year’s election is high and that many voters are likely to cast their ballots early because of concerns about coronavirus. Yet, some polling places in Georgia were unprepared for an onslaught of voters on Monday, the first day of early voting and a holiday. More than 120,000 Georgians voted on Monday and many reported waiting in line for hours, some as long as 11 hours.
Many voters acknowledged that they could have voted by mail or on Election Day, but especially Black voters went to the polls early in person to ensure their voters were counted, they told the Associated Press.
“Many individuals went through a lot, suffered a lot for this opportunity,” said Donovan Stewart, a military retiree, who voted in an Atlanta suburb. “So I could stand in line for four hours to do my civic duty. That’s what we’re called to do, to vote and try to make a change.”
In Maine, a record 277,000 voters had requested absentee ballots by last week, when early in-person voted in many locales. Numerous communities have installed secure drop boxes for absentee ballots.
But, although voting in Maine is generally easy and quick, we should still be concerned about impediments to voting in other places in America because it depresses turnout, which isn’t healthy for a democracy.
Nationally, voter turnout was 50 percent in the 2018 election, an off-year election. In 2016, a presidential election year, turnout was 60 percent.
Voter participation in Maine has long been above the national average. In 2016, the last presidential election, voter turnout in the Pine Tree State — 72.8 percent — was the second highest in the nation, behind Minnesota at 74.8 percent, according to Ballotpedia.
The voting rate in the United States is below that of most other developed countries. In 2014 national elections in Belgium, 87.2 percent of the country’s voting-age population cast a ballot, the highest in the world. That was followed by Sweden and South Korea with 83 percent and 78 percent, respectively, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center study.
Belgium is one of 24 countries that has a compulsory voter law. These laws are not strictly enforced and fines for not voting are low ($15 in U.S. dollars in Australia, for example), but they tend to increase turnout. In addition to encouraging more people to vote, compulsory voting also brings out a more diverse group of people.
Compulsory voting likely won’t go over well in America, so it could be time to abandon the agrarian tradition of voting on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November — so as not to interfere with farming. Weekend voting or making Election Day a national holiday would likely increase turnout.
Five states — Hawaii, Colorado, Utah, Oregon and Washington — conduct elections entirely by mail. In the November 2018 election, Colorado’s turnout was 63 percent, Oregon’s was 61 percent and Washington saw 59 percent voter turnout, all well above the national average.
Encouraging more people to vote is a good thing and should not be a partisan issue. If you’d like to vote by absentee ballot, the deadline for requesting one is Oct. 29. Check to see if your town has a drop box. If you return the ballot by mail, be sure to use 70 cents for postage.
If you’d like to vote in person, see if your town offers early voting or be sure to show up on Nov. 3 and be sure to wear a mask and to distance yourself from other voters.