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Take it from Mama: Vote smart and vote early

This will be a record year in the United States for early voting and vote-by-mail, but how we worry.

Workers prepare absentee ballots for mailing at an elections center in Raleigh, N.C.
AP Photos

The voting experience in 2020 will be like none other in American history. Last week, North Carolina became the first state in the nation to launch its vote-by-mail effort this year, reportedly mailing out 600,000 absentee ballots.

When we are not shuddering over the never-ending COVID-19 invasion, we are agonizing over the safety of the Nov. 3 election.

I have never seen such intense interest — and fear — about an election in my decades of reporting on politics.

This will be a record year for early voting and vote-by-mail.

But how we worry:

Fears about in-person voting in a pandemic. Angst that election authorities will be overwhelmed. Trepidation that the U.S. Postal Service might not deliver. And there’s always Donald Trump’s constant baseless claims of election fraud, which have put even lifelong voters on edge.

Not to worry. Mama is on the case.

That’s my Mama, a one-woman, get-out-the-vote whirlwind.

All summer, Ms. Gwen Washington has been part of a hearty troupe of senior citizens who are lobbying for early voting at their Hyde Park apartment complex.

Mama dons her gloves, mask and dogged disposition to disperse information. She and her compadres regularly camp out at her high-rise building to advise residents and passersby on how to vote.

She presses vote-by-mail ballot applications into the hands of every warm body she encounters, social distancing be damned.

Mama is 86. She has never missed an election. Voting to her is as sacred as her three, precious grandchildren.

“It’s important to vote, and vote as early as you can,” she exhorts. “Get those ballots, and get them in!”

Anyone who hears her voice will listen. Take it from me.

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners has received more than 350,000 vote-by-mail applications for the Nov. 3 election, the agency reported Tuesday. That already is more than three times the number of ballots received in the March 2020 primary, which posted an all-time city record.

And a national CNN poll taken last month shows that 34% of registered voters would prefer to vote by mail in the presidential election, while another 22% would prefer to vote early at a polling place. Only 43 percent would prefer to vote in person on Election Day.

Voters may be engaged, but they are not informed, Mama says. The tales she hears raise alarm.

One woman Mama encountered had recently moved to Hyde Park from Dolton but is still registered there. She asked: Can I request a ballot in Chicago?

“No,” Mama said.

I have been voting in Chicago, another voter confided, but live in Joliet. Will my vote be legal?


I don’t trust the mail, said another. Should I take my chances and vote in person on Election Day.


(My mother is good with that word, take it from me).

There are no excuses, she declares. Find out what you need to do.

I promised I would help spread the word.

Check with your election authorities in your county or town.

In Chicago, the board of elections advises: “Due to COVID-19, voters are encouraged to use vote by mail or early voting before Election Day on Nov. 3, 2020.”

Its web site,, has everything you need to know — right now.

Mama knows best.

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