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Craig Hickman of Winthrop owns an organic farm and bed and breakfast. He also represents District 81 in the Maine House of Representatives.
Three days after Mainers last went to the polls in July, John Lewis — civil rights hero and conscience of the Congress — died after decades of fighting for every American’s right to cast a ballot. If we do not wake up and act now, the last election of his lifetime may be the last free and fair election of our own.
Lewis was arrested more than 40 times in his pursuit of integration, was beaten and bloodied by agents of the state as he marched for voting rights, and nearly gave his life for equality on multiple occasions. “The vote is precious,” Lewis said in 2016 to explain why he went to such great lengths for ballot access. “It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democracy.”
This tool is under attack — under siege with new vigor and brazenness. No longer are dogs sicced on Black men and women as they attempt to go to the polls, no longer are impossible tests imposed on those who try to register. Yet Donald Trump, in the light of day, is working daily to sow distrust in the results before a single vote has been cast. He is asking what no other president has asked before: whether we should be having an election in November at all.
We might dismiss these comments as Trump’s usual Twitter bluster and everyday disregard for truth. However, his administration is putting its full force behind suppression. Americans are choosing to use mail-in ballots because the COVID-19 pandemic has made it less safe to go to the polls in person — a pandemic inflamed by the president’s inaction — and now he is attempting to slow and shut down mail service nationwide.
Mail sorting machines are being removed from postal facilities; U.S. Postal Service leadership is being dismissed and reassigned to undermine its ability to function; and mailboxes are being ripped from city streets. Meanwhile, Trump’s reelection campaign is suing to prevent ballot drop boxes — an alternative solution for return of absentee ballots — from being deployed in swing states like Pennsylvania.
On Aug. 13, Trump dismissed calls to include USPS funding in a congressional coronavirus relief package, laying bare his self-serving motivations for declining to approve $25 billion for the Post Office. “Now they need that money in order to make the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” he told Fox Business. “But if they don’t get [that funding] that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it.” If we don’t fund the Postal Service, Americans can’t vote. Voter suppression is the stated goal.
We must not allow this to continue. Maine has a crucial U.S. Senate election in addition to the presidential vote, and our leaders must do everything in their power to protect the rights of their citizens.
What is the solution? Get ballots to voters sooner, so mail delays matter less; make sure voters don’t have to pay to return them, to encourage return without delay; open town offices for in-person voting via absentee ballot every day during the month before Election Day, so there are ample alternatives to mail voting; and count every ballot postmarked through Nov. 3, so voters are not disenfranchised due to late arrival of a ballot due to no fault of their own.
These are straightforward, simple steps. They are the least we can do in the face of a pandemic that limits our ability to go to the polls and a president doing everything in his power to constrain our access to the ballot.
We cannot let John Lewis’ work be undone; we must honor his life and his legacy. We must protect our fragile democracy — ever more fragile with each passing day.
Lewis said, “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.”
Maine people are saying something. What will our leaders do?