Politics has largely taken a back seat to far more pressing concerns in recent weeks as the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold, and rightfully so.
But this year’s elections will have enormous implications, from the national level on down. And given the uncertainty surrounding how long our current predicament will drag on – coupled with the likelihood that social distancing, in some form, will remain the norm through the spring, summer and fall – it is essential that we act now to ensure that all Rhode Islanders, and all Americans, can safely exercise their right to vote.
The presidential election, obviously, will be at the forefront of public attention in the Ocean State and beyond. We will save our thoughts on that contest – almost certain to put Republican incumbent Donald Trump against presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden – for another time.
There will be no contest for statewide offices in Rhode Island this year, but the ballot will nevertheless be a crowded one for many of our readers.
In Cranston, voters will choose a successor to Mayor Allan Fung, who cannot run for reelection due to term limits. Control of the City Council will also be up for grabs, with several sitting members facing their own term limits or poised to enter the mayoral fray. Seats on the School Committee will also be decided.
Additionally, a panel charged with recommending updates to the city’s charter had been at work in the months before the crisis, and voters are set to decide on a number of questions related to Cranston’s governing document. Cranston Public Schools also plans to bring a bond question before voters as part of an ambitious facilities upgrade plan.
Warwick, too, will have a mayoral election – with incumbent Joseph Solomon poised to seek a new term – as well as contests for City Council and School Committee. In Johnston, Town Council and School Committee seats will appear on the ballot.
As the coronavirus crisis has worn on, we have seen some troubling indicators nationally regarding the issue of voting access. In Wisconsin last month, efforts to delay the presidential preference primary and ease mail-in voting options were thwarted, forcing thousands to choose between participating in the electoral process and protecting their health. From some quarters, there has been unfounded outcry over mail-in ballot fraud – and, in some cases, even admissions of partisan considerations being at play.
Ensuring ballot access must transcend partisanship, especially during this trying time. We believe most Americans and Rhode Islanders share that view.
A recent survey from The Harris Poll and Harvard University’s Center for American Political Studies would seem to support that belief. It found that 72 percent of Americans favor conducting this year’s presidential election by mail, with 28 percent opposed.
In Rhode Island, officials have wisely moved to delay the state’s presidential primary until June 2 and make the election one primarily conducted by mail. While the Democratic nominating contest appears to have effectively concluded, this will provide a valuable trail run looking ahead to the September statewide primary and the November general election.
This crisis will call for our political system to adapt in rapid and unprecedented ways. It will affect every aspect of this election year, including how candidates conduct campaigns.
But no facet of our system of government – and, indeed, our way of life – is more essential than the right to vote. And there is no excuse for failing to provide the resources and support necessary to ensure every citizen’s voice can be heard.