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In Maryland and across the nation, an election like no other | COMMENTARY

In this Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, file photo, voters stand in line to cast their ballots inside the Pip Moyer Recreation Center in Annapolis on the first day of in-person early voting in the state. Maryland voters have already mailed in their ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic, or voted early. (AP Photo/Brian Witte, File)
In this Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, file photo, voters stand in line to cast their ballots inside the Pip Moyer Recreation Center in Annapolis on the first day of in-person early voting in the state. Maryland voters have already mailed in their ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic, or voted early. (AP Photo/Brian Witte, File) (Brian Witte/AP)

On Sunday afternoon, Issam and Maggie Cheikh of Hampton proudly cast their ballots at the early voting center at Towson University. To suggest they were motivated to be there would be to put it mildly. Dr. Cheikh, 78, an endocrinologist, and his wife, 73, a nurse, weren’t about to leave their ballots to the uncertainties of the U.S. Postal Service, not this year, not as naturalized citizens and especially not after vandals, presumably supporters of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, twice attacked their Biden-Harris yard sign, first with spray paint, the second time leaving behind a pile of excrement.

“This is what immigrants do in the face of hate, clean up the mess and stand tall,” their daughter Yara Cheikh posted on social media after taking her father, a native of Syria, and mother who was born and raised in Ireland to vote. “I am so proud of my parents. They are the American dream.”

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Even before polls open for Election Day on Tuesday, a record number of Marylanders have approached voting with a similar level of determination either sending in mail-in ballots (more than 1.3 million received as of Sunday) or participating in early voting (853,000 at the same point). In 2016, early voting accounted for less than half that total in the state. Nationwide, it has been a similar story with more than 91 million votes cast by the time the Cheikhs arrived at Towson University to record their own ballots. By Tuesday’s end, the nation will likely far exceed the 2016 vote total of about 136 million.

That’s a remarkable tally under any circumstances but particularly in 2020 when the risk of spreading COVID-19 has kept so many confined to their homes or at least socially distanced. Yet, to some degree, it is the same pandemic that motivates many voters, with the overwhelming focus at the top of the ticket and the contest between President Trump and Vice President Pence and former Vice President Joe Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris. The Trump administration’s mishandling of the health crisis and a widespread sense of uncertainty, political fractiousness and social upheaval are motivating Americans like few national elections have in modern times.

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Setting aside the politics, there are any number of lessons to be learned here. Surely, the first is that mail-in voting is, like buying goods through the internet from Amazon and other virtual vendors, here to stay. Second, is that making it easier for people to cast a ballot pays big dividends. Well-staffed early voting centers, broad distribution of drop-off boxes and mail-in ballot applications sent to all registered voters — these strategies appear to be working. No matter how this election resolves, there ought to be a national commission formed to review best voting practices and set minimum standards so that this greater level of participation can become the floor, not the ceiling, for future contests. Alas, for every state like Maryland that seeks to encourage turnout, there are still those that seek to suppress participation through barriers like mandatory photo IDs or frequent voter roll purges. One relatively easy step to keep the momentum going? Declare Election Day a national holiday so that everyone has the time and the opportunity to vote.

Of course, after all this buildup and tension, after all the division and turmoil, the hyperbole and doomsaying, it’s entirely possible that Americans won’t know the results of the presidential contest on Tuesday night. Or, even if a winner is projected, legal objections to certain ballots in certain swing states could further delay official results for weeks yet. For this possibility, we can only counsel patience. This nation has withstood challenges to democracy before and survived them intact. For all of Mr. Trump’s invective about others “stealing” the election (or our worries that he will be the one to commit the thievery), we are still a nation of laws. Those who are itching for violence are no patriots, and they do their cause no service.

It is evident that the world is watching right now, some quite skeptically. If we are serious about what the framers wrote in 1787 and seek to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” we should respect the quiet, steadfast commitment to democracy made by people like Issam and Maggie Cheikh, who would not be intimidated into silence, and then seek to heal our divisions once all the votes are counted fairly and a winner declared.

The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

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