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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / People wait in line to vote at the Brainerd Youth and Family Development Center on Wednesday, Oct. 14, the first day of early voting in Hamilton County.

CORRECTION: This editorial was updated at 12:32 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, to correct the number of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. to 225,000. It previously stated 255,000.

Americans have plenty of reasons to get out and vote this 2020 election year, and they clearly know it.

We are showing up in early voting lines or casting absentee and mail ballots in record numbers.

That's true locally, in our tri-state region and nationally.

In Hamilton County, in-person early voting and mail-in absentee votes through Saturday looked likely to eclipse 2016's totals with four more days of early voting still left. And in Tennessee, 1.65 million of us had already voted— 39.84% more than the 1.18 million who voted early in 2016, according to Secretary of State Tre Hargett. In Georgia, 2.75 million ballots — more than double 2016's — had already been cast as of 5 p.m. Sunday. Alabama also has already shattered early and absentee voting records. Across the U.S., things look much the same.

We, like most political observers, think there are two reasons for this unusually high voting interest: the COVID-19 pandemic and Donald Trump. And, yes, those two reasons are co-mingled.

Most Americans are frightened of this too-often-deadly virus that experts warn is just beginning to start a third dark spike as fall and winter overtake our nation.

Many if not most Americans also are frightened that even in the face of those expert warnings, Trump and his administration are not only ignoring the warnings, they are daring them.

Trump himself continues to campaign with large, not-socially distanced, near-maskless supporters. Having already survived his own bout with the virus, thanks to the Cadillac health care that should be afforded a president, he may not be contagious or susceptible to the virus for a while, but his advance folks, security team and the rallygoers likely are. Each rally looks like a brand new superspreader event.

Over the weekend, in a new COVID-19 outbreak at the White House, at least four staffers of Vice President Mike Pence tested positive for the novel coronavirus. One is Pence's chief of staff, whom he has been around. Not only is Pence not self-quarantining himself, but he also plans to continue working, traveling and campaigning — Sunday in North Carolina, Monday in Minnesota, and three more planned events in North Carolina and South Carolina today. The White House ridiculously claims that Pence is an "essential worker" who is "working."

Moreover, on Sunday, as the Trump administration scoffed at the notion of dialing back in-person campaigning, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told CNN, "We're not going to control the pandemic."

He went on: "We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas," adding that it is a contagious virus like the flu. "We are making efforts to contain it."

No. It's more contagious than the flu and far, far more deadly. What's more, it has long-term, adverse health effects that we are just now beginning to grasp. And did we mention that the U.S. saw more than 83,000 infections reported on Friday alone?

To date, the U.S. has tallied 8.6 million cases and more than 225,000 deaths — more than 225,000 deaths just because of COVID-19 alone.

On average since the first confirmed U.S. COVID-19 death early this year, that's the equivalent of a 9/11 about every three days throughout 2020.

Let's repeat that. The rough equivalent of a 9/11 every three days, but our president keeps right on mocking this disease and people who wear masks, while his chief of staff matter-of-factly tells CNN we're "not going to control" the pandemic.

This president and his minions also are dangerous in ways we're just beginning to grasp.

No wonder former Vice President Joe Biden has a double-digit lead in the polls.

The Associated Press reports that Democrats have continued to dominate the initial early and mail balloting — on Sunday 51% to 31%.

But the AP says GOP voters have gradually begun to show up as early in-person voters.

It could be a sign that many heeded President Donald Trump's unfounded warnings about mail-voting fraud.

Or it could be that they, too, are worried about this administration. CNN's John Avlon reported that last week at least 450 prominent Republican leaders — most decades-long GOP leaders — are now supporting the Biden/Harris ticket.

They include former Ohio governor John Kasich, two former chairmen of the Republican Party, five former senators and 24 former Republican members of Congress. There also are Republican CIA directors, Cabinet secretaries, a UN ambassador, military leaders, Cindy McCain, 129 national security officials from Republican administrations, hundreds of George W. Bush administration alumni and 46 members of Mitt Romney's campaign.

That doesn't mean these or other switching voters will vote a straight Democratic ticket, but still.

The lines are long for early voting, but it's worth the wait. The lines will also be long on Nov. 3, but also worth the wait.

Our country is worth it — and then some.

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