By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor
Even carved Halloween pumpkins in neighborhoods say “Vote.”
The scene of long lines and mostly-patient early voters has played out across the United States (pictured above, New York’s Madison Square Garden on Saturday). With eight days to go until the traditional in-person Election Day, early voting has already surpassed early and absentee voting in 2016. Early ballots number nearly 80 percent of the total 2016 voters in Texas, 70 percent of those in Georgia, and 72 percent in Montana.
In Cleveland, the line of early voters extended onto a highway off-ramp this past weekend. It was the first time I can remember seeing people so motivated to vote that they would stand for hours in a long line on the side of a highway on a chilly Saturday morning to make sure their votes are counted.
The pace of voter participation, more than 60 million votes cast thus far, is on track to set record-shattering turnout results. Not since 1908 has 65 percent of the U.S. electorate cast ballots, USA Today reports.
Like so much of 2020, the pandemic has driven early voting, too. Fear that the postal service would be overwhelmed and unable to deliver absentee ballots to be counted in time, concerns about the reduced numbers of mail drop locations and polling places, and fear of standing in long lines and being in large crowds on Election Day all played a role. Many early voters mentioned anger and frustration about the government’s response to the escalating COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 225,000 Americans and infected 8.6 million.
Another spur: the racial reckoning currently underway as demands to end police brutality grow louder, fears of voter suppression abound, and a lack of trust that democracy will work the way it’s supposed to on Election Day.
According to The Election Project, an independent data analysis by researchers at the University of Florida, first time voters and infrequent voters top the list. Estimates show that the youth vote—considered people under age 30, already is up by as much at 30 percent. In North Carolina, nearly 205,000 young people have already voted compared with 25,150 in 2016. In Michigan, 145,201 young voters have cast their ballots compared with 7,572 in 2016.
With gratitude to the generations who made my vote possible, I enthusiastically went to the polls this weekend and stood in line with one of my college sons (a first-time presidential voter studying remotely this semester due to the pandemic). In a difficult, trying year, it is fulfilling to see tens of millions of fellow Americans exercising their full rights as citizens.
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Today in a minute
Promoted: Pope Francis is elevating Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Washington to cardinal next month, making him the first African American to hold the title. The new cardinal, pictured above, is a “caring pastor, a quiet leader and a courageous voice when Washington and the country need all three,” John Carr, a longtime colleague and former lobbyist for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the Washington Post.
R.I.P. Jerry Jeff Walker: The young folksinger from upstate New York spent a night in a drunk tank in New Orleans with a man who used the name Mr. Bojangles. Walker’s song of that encounter became a standard. Walker (who thought Nina Simone sang it best) went on to Texas to create a different kind of country music, popularizing songs like Ray Wylie Hubbard’s Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother and Gary P. Nunn’s London Homesick Blues, which became the longtime theme of the public TV music show Austin City Limits. “People said, ‘We’re different, but we’re not hillbilly country,’” Walker once recounted of what became the “Outlaw” style of country played by artists like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. Walker died Friday after a long battle with throat cancer, Rolling Stone reported.
Unearthing history: Nearly 100 years after hundreds of Black people were killed by white mobs in the Tulsa Massacre, one of the deadliest racial attacks in U.S. history, human remains were found nearby in an Oklahoma cemetery where many of the victims are believed to be buried, DeNeen L. Brown writes for NatGeo. Archaeologists are treating the site as a crime scene long after the 1921 massacre, in which no one was charged. Oklahomans were not taught about the destruction of a prosperous African American neighborhood known as the “Black Wall Street,” and many Americans did not know about the horror until last year, when an HBO series, Watchmen, was set amid the killing.
Followup: Last week’s newsletter on the Electoral College brought plenty of pro and con readers for this indirect election of the president. Several noted that a half century ago, 80 percent of Americans were against it, and backed a GOP-supported attempt to kill it. Then-President Richard Nixon wanted it gone, too, and the U.S. House overwhelmingly backed a direct election. Even the Chamber of Commerce and the American Bar Association wanted to kill it. How did it survive? Three segregationist senators in the South filibustered to prevent it from coming to a vote in the Senate.
That time of the year: Was it because of the movie Coco? The incredible photos? For some reason, one of our strongest performing stories each October is about the origins of Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. Unlike Halloween’s single dark night of terror and mischief, Day of the Dead festivities, begun thousands of years ago, unfold in Mexico and parts of the United States next weekend over in an explosion of color and life-affirming joy. Enjoy the article!
Instagram photo of the day
Bedroom, interrupted: On August 4, ammonium nitrate stored in Beirut’s port exploded, causing a powerful blast wave that leveled buildings and killed at least 200 people and injured more than 6,500. The Sursock family has lived continuously in Sursock Palace since it was built in Beirut in the 1870s. Ariana Sursock, 18, was in the house at the time of the blast. She escaped injury, but her childhood bedroom was left in shambles. Her 98-year-old grandmother was injured by flying glass and debris and later died from the injuries. “Everything seemed to be turning, moving, and the chandeliers were swinging, and there was so much dust,” said Ariana, recalling the moment of impact. “I thought, ‘This is the end—there's no way I'm going to survive this.’”
Related: Must every generation in Lebanon endure violent chaos?
The big takeaway
After RBG, the next generation: Equal protection. Voting rights. These are issues Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought for before and during her career on the U.S. Supreme Court. Another generation of women leaders are fighting to further Ginsburg’s ideals for the nation, even as another justice takes her seat on the high court, Nat Geo’s Sydney Combs writes. (Pictured above, Bamby Salcedo, the president and CEO of the TransLatin@ Coalition, who is fighting in court to ensure access to healthcare for her community.)
In a few words
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What would Machiavelli do? People see the master Renaissance political scientist Niccolò Machiavelli as a ruthless, power-hungry plotter—even the word “Machiavellian” indicates a crafty, savvy route toward domination. But his key work, The Prince, really was a candid, dare I say egalitarian, guide to and exploration of what happens in smoke-filled rooms. At least that’s what historian Garry Wills explained to your humble curator in college. Nat Geo’s History magazine delves into the contradiction between the self-assured wisdom in his masterwork and the tumult of Machiavelli's personal life. (Above, Santi di Tito’s portrait of him, which hangs in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio.)