Letters From an American

The Big Story Tonight Is Us

Americans are voting in record numbers.

The Big Story Tonight Is Us

November 2, 2020

Today, in the last hours before Election Day, Trump careened from one wild tweet to another, threatening, lying, promising, and cajoling. He flew to rallies in a number of states, making up for his campaign’s lack of money by hitting states in person and counting on local media to do the advertising he cannot afford to.

Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s campaign—still flush with cash–released slick videos and tweets promising that Biden and his running mate Senator Kamala Harris will bring America together again; govern for the whole country, not just partisans; and address the nation’s problems, beginning with the coronavirus.

But the big story tonight is us.

Americans are voting in record numbers. About 98 million people have already voted. This number is about 71% of the total vote count of 139 million ballots cast in 2016. In 9 states, the early voting is already 90% of the total 2016 vote. In Texas and Hawaii, early voting has made up more votes than all the ballots cast in 2016.

Trump is the first president since Gallup polling began who has never broken 50% in its polling of job approval. Trump knew that it would be difficult to attract enough voters to win in a free and fair election, so his plan for reelection has always been to energize his base to show up at the polls while suppressing the votes of those who oppose him. (Note I did not say “Democrats”: there are unusually high numbers of Republicans crossing the aisle to get rid of Trump.)

This summer, as coronavirus ripped across the country, Republicans tried to make it hard to vote by mail. They hoped to depress turnout, since high turnout usually helps Democrats. Trump’s big donor Postmaster General Louis DeJoy changed rules at the United States Postal Service, slowing mail delivery significantly just as the country would need to rely on the USPS to deliver ballots. And now, cheered on by the president, “Trump trains” – caravans of trucks and cars flying Trump flags, often with their license plates covered—are intimidating voters, while this weekend law enforcement officers in Graham, North Carolina, pepper sprayed a group of about 200 voters and their families walking to the polls.

And yet, Americans are voting in record numbers.

For his part, Biden has run a solid, drama-free campaign. For all that he has been known for his gaffes in the past, there were none on display in the past several months. He has stayed calm and relatively quiet, letting Trump take the headlines, while he demonstrated competence. Many Americans have not bothered to learn Biden’s policies, though: it is enough that he is not Trump. He is a man of character and an institutionalist, prepared to honor the national principles and rebuild the government that Trump has gutted.

The polling numbers in the presidential race have stayed remarkably steady, so Trump’s team is trying to win the election through lawsuits to throw out votes presumed to be Democratic. The president has hammered on the idea that mail-in ballots will flood polling places with fraudulent ballots—this is false—and that votes must be tallied and a winner declared on Election Day itself or Democrats will “flip” the election. This, too, is false. No state certifies the results of the election the day it occurs, and there is no outcome to flip until all the ballots are counted.

No matter what Trump says about the election, Americans are voting in record numbers.

Tomorrow is the final day of polling for the 2020 contest, one which many Americans—including me—believe will determine whether we will keep, or lose, our democracy. On the ballot are fairness, equality before the law, and the future of our country. While Biden has promised to be the president for all of us, and has called for us to put aside our differences to work together to defeat the coronavirus and move our country forward, Trump is letting the coronavirus rage across the nation, is riling up anger and hatred, and has barricaded himself behind an unscalable wall at the White House. Out of concerns that violence might erupt, workers have boarded up storefronts nearby. In other cities, other storeowners have taken the same precautions.

And yet, Americans are voting in record numbers.

They are able to do so thanks to the election officials, who began preparing for this election a year ago; their neighbors, who are working at the polling stations; their friends, who are helping each other to get to the polls; and law enforcement officers, who are keeping the domestic terrorists at bay. These teams are working together to make sure that what is not simply a presidential election, but also a patchwork of our state and local elections, can be held safely and efficiently. They are trying to guarantee that the most fundamental principle of our government is honored: that we all have a say in our local, state, and national governments.

It is in our hands, not the hands of our leaders, to decide the nation’s future.

We are voting in record numbers.

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Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson teaches American history at Boston College. She is the author of a number of books, most recently, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America. She writes the popular nightly newsletter Letters from an American. Follow her on Twitter: @HC_Richardson.