Democracy, it appears, is alive and well in Clark County. And while Washington’s long-established vote-by-mail system has proven to be secure and beneficial to voters, protecting the right to vote remains an issue in many parts of the country.
Through Thursday, the Clark County Elections Office had reported receiving more than 95,000 ballots for the Nov. 3 election. With about 320,000 eligible voters in the county, that means that 30 percent of registered voters already have engaged in their civic duty. In 2016, the previous presidential election, turnout this far ahead of the election was about half that rate.
Equally important, the percentage of eligible voters who have registered has increased. In just the past week, since ballots were mailed out, the county has welcomed more than 4,000 newly registered voters. Clark County residents may register to vote online or by mail until Monday, and may register in person at the elections office (1408 Franklin St., Vancouver) until 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Voting by mail gives citizens the opportunity to fill out their ballot at home and drop it into a secure ballot box (locations are listed on the county’s website) or the mail at their convenience. But in many states, voting often is a burden, with people standing in line for hours to visit the polls. This is particularly disconcerting during a pandemic, even with many states opening for early voting in order to diffuse the rush.
In Georgia, waits of more than eight hours have been reported, and multi-hour waits in Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and Texas also have hampered the process. On Oct. 15, the National Election Defense Coalition noted: “The long lines are happening not by accident but design. Voters must stand up to defend our system of government.”
As the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University reports: “Over the last 20 years, states have put barriers in front of the ballot box — imposing strict voter ID laws, cutting voting times, restricting registration, and purging voter rolls. These efforts, which received a boost when the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act in 2013, have kept significant numbers of eligible voters from the polls, hitting all Americans, but placing special burdens on racial minorities, poor people, and young and old voters.”
With President Donald Trump frequently claiming that this year’s election will be fraudulent and even urging his supporters to commit a felony by voting more than once, our entire system is under assault. As conservative-leaning columnist Michael Gerson of The Washington Post surmised: “The president has attempted to destroy trust in the whole electoral enterprise in preparation for legal challenges to mail-in votes.”
Through various methods, multiple states — usually led by Republicans — have engaged in voter suppression over the past two decades. And in May, while discussing a coronavirus relief package in Congress, Trump said, “They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
In truth, supporting policies that move the country forward and appeal to a broad range of citizens is a more effective and sustainable way of maintaining power than suppressing the vote. Our democracy depends on it, and turnout in states that have early voting suggests that millions of Americans are standing up for that democracy.
That is being demonstrated in Clark County. Even if we just have to sit at our kitchen table to fill out a ballot.