Editorial: Voting by mail or in person is a fundamental American right

In last month’s New York State Democratic primary, nearly 100,000 Long Islanders voted by mail or voted early, before the polls formally opened. This is a remarkable number, and a strong indication that, in the age of COVID-19, many of us are not comfortable driving to polling places to stand in line and vote.

In Suffolk County, Newsday reported last month, 20 postal containers of ballots were filed with the Suffolk County Board of Elections the Monday before primary day, an amount election officials have said was unprecedented. Officials said more than 200,000 Long Islanders requested mail-in ballots before last month’s primary.

We reported that mail-in voting was also used in school budget and Board of Education elections last month, resulting in high turnout in Riverhead and Southold town school districts, with more than twice as many votes cast as last year. That is a great success story. 

While last month’s Riverhead school budget vote was mail-in only, the revote on July 28 is in-person, although voters can request absentee ballots.

Voting is the fundamental American right, yet in so many places political operatives trying by any means to help their candidate across the finish line have suppressed the vote and, like President Trump, denounced mail-in voting as another dark element of the “deep state” conspiracy against his administration.

Here is what seems to be happening: If you think your favored candidate is going to lose, you loathe mail-in voting — and you support voter suppression efforts in order to reduce the number of voters who cast ballots against your candidate. It’s pretty simple. These efforts are all out in the open.

Recall the 2018 governor’s race in Georgia, where Brian Kemp, then Georgia’s secretary of state, oversaw a massive voter suppression effort that produced a sweeping purge of voter rolls and shuttered precincts in minority communities, where voting equipment failed more often than in other communities.

It was perhaps no surprise that Mr. Kemp, who is white, won the race, beating Stacey Abrams, who is Black, by about 1% of the 4 million votes cast. All Americans — but particularly conservatives who say they value the rule of law and the Constitution — should denounce this kind of suppression as supremely un-American. But they don’t. And they won’t.

John Lewis, a larger-than-life giant of decency, honor and integrity, died last week at the age of 80. He was beaten senseless on March 7, 1965, by Alabama state troopers after he and 600 others attempted to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma during a voter registration protest.

In case you have wondered who Pettus was, he served as an officer in the Confederate Army and after the Civil War was a grand dragon in the Ku Klux Klan. Naming a publicly funded bridge after him in 1940 shows who had the right to vote that year, and it was not the state’s Black residents.

As we get closer to the Nov. 3 national election, voting rights should be a top priority. We, as a democratic republic with voting as a foundational right, should make it easier to cast a ballot. Making it any harder than it has already become, and suppressing the vote, is truly un-American.