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Editorial: The most important election of our lifetime

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Residents utilize the satellite absentee voting location at Odell Weeks Activity Center on Tuesday.

Practically everyone who is eligible to vote knows that Election Day is almost upon us. Americans will head to the polls Tuesday to elect leaders from the highest office in the land to hyper-local races such as school board.

We think every election is important – not just the ones for president every four years – but we keep hearing that this is the most important election of our lifetime.

We don’t disagree.

Record numbers of people have cast absentee ballots here and across the country, and they seem to validate that sentiment.

The race for the White House in 2020 was sure to be cantankerous as President Donald Trump, a Republican, sought reelection against his Democratic opponent, who turned out to be former Vice President Joe Biden. Political rancor and division between the two major parties seems to be at an all-time high.

But what makes this election take on added importance is the double whammy that hit the United States earlier this year: the novel coronavirus pandemic and protests demanding social justice.

The effects of the pandemic – everything from how to keep it from spreading to how to keep the economy rolling – have been a highly politicized battle that has been waged on the federal, state and local levels. At last count, more than 9 million Americans had been infected with the disease and more than 225,000 people had died from it in this country alone.

We’ve seen firsthand the devastating effects: the downturn in the local economy, local schools shifting to distance learning and major events being canceled or rescheduled. Mask ordinances were put into place across the state, including the City of Aiken.

What was once thought to be a short-term problem has now morphed into one with no expiration date in sight. A race to produce a vaccine is well underway, but medical experts are still advising to mask up, social distance and practice good hygiene as we enter the holiday season.

Social justice protests grabbed center stage in late May in the wake of several high-profile incidents after a Black man, George Floyd, was killed while restrained in Minneapolis. A white police officer knelt on his neck for more than 8 minutes until he couldn’t breathe anymore.

The incident was the latest in a string of incidents where unarmed Black people – including Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor – were killed. Their deaths sparked a national dialogue on race.

Black Lives Matter marches and protests swept the country, including here in Aiken. Some in bigger cities, including nearby Columbia and Charleston, were not as peaceful as the ones in Aiken. Community leaders gathered in early June at the Lessie B. Price Senior and Youth Center to help diffuse the tension and promote civility.

There are plenty of other issues at stake in this election: health care, education, the economy, broadband access, taxes, immigration, foreign policy and climate change, to name a few.

The stakes are high as we head into the final few days of the campaign. The most important thing we can do, as Americans, is vote.

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