EDITORIAL: Vote: Let’s take advantage of early polling dates

Early voting for the Nov. 3 general election begins today. Gov. Greg Abbott deserves thanks and praise for extending the number of days that Texans can vote early; it’s a valuable and even vital accommodation that should help reduce concerns of falling prey to the novel coronavirus. Together, time and space can greatly reduce the chance of catching COVID-19, which remains a threat.

The added days especially are needed in this state, where efforts to allow more people to vote by mail. State Attorney General Ken Paxton rejected county efforts to expand mail-in voting, as several other states have done to serve voters to feared risking their health by voting in person, and the Texas Supreme Court ruled in Paxton’s favor. Abbott announced the expanded early voting period after that ruling, and the court denied legal challenges that challenged this and other efforts to enable more people to cast their votes.

Rio Grande Valley residents traditionally have taken advantage of early voting periods and should do so during this election, which is expected to attract record numbers of voters.

Those votes should be encouraged, especially in a country where scarcely half of those who do so actually do. Low voter turnout has fueled debates that elected officials don’t truly represent the will of the people; increased participation helps ensure that public officials are awarded their jobs by a majority of the general voting public, and not blocs of motivated supporters.

We’re confident that election officials are doing everything they can to make the voting process as safe as possible. If anything good can be seen from the COVID-19 pandemic, we can consider it fortunate that spring primary runoffs occurred after restrictions were imposed, and elections officials were able to test many of their safety measures during that voting cycle, when voter turnout was relatively low and elections officials were able to assess and adjust as needed.

Much greater numbers are expected now, and adjustments will continue. For example, efforts to allow curbside voting are still being tweaked, and specific measures — even curbside voting locations — could change with little notice. The priority will always be public safety, and voters should show tolerance if a sudden change is announced or a glitch appears in the system.

We also encourage voters to go to the polls as early as possible. This will enable some voters to leave and come back later if they find crowds are too big or lines too long for their comfort.

Another reason to consider voting early is the fact that heightened public sensitivities could affect people who might later fall victim to COVID-19 — or any other illness that could provoke COVID-like symptoms, such as the flu or bronchitis. It’s unknown whether precinct workers will turn away sick voters or if contingency measures will be in place to prevent exposure to other voters. It’s best, then, for voters to go early if they’re healthy, just in case they might catch a simple cold or other malady that might affect their trip to the polls.

Choosing our nation’s president, lawmakers and other officials enables us to have a direct hand in the policies under which we will live and the direction our nation, state and communities take. We encourage every registered voter to take advantage of this privilege, and help decide our future.