Editorial Roundup: Alabama

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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Sept. 13

Decatur Daily on preparing to vote well in advance of the November election:

The state has begun accepting applications for absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 general election, and already local election officials are seeing a surge of requests.

Combine a pandemic that makes people leery of going out into large crowds, polling places that will have to maintain social distancing guidelines, a competitive U.S. Senate race and a presidential election that may live up to the quadrennial promise of being “the most important election in our lifetimes,” and this all makes sense.

Morgan County Circuit Clerk Chris Priest said he usually has a couple of hundred applications for absentee ballots at this time in the election cycle but expected between 800 and 1,000 this time.

“At least one-and-a-half to two times our normal is what we’re expecting” by the time the election arrives, he said. That would mean 3,000 to 4,000 absentee ballots cast in the county compared to about 2,000 normally.

This poses an unusual challenge for not only local election officials, but for the U.S. Postal Service, too.

Much has been said in recent weeks about the Postal Service, including various conspiracy theories making the rounds of social media.

People post and share photos of locked mail drop boxes, for example, but claim they are in a city where they aren’t or have been locked for nefarious reasons. One photo, for example, was said to be from Washington, D.C., but was actually from Portland, and the boxes were locked to prevent anyone from dumping something they shouldn’t into them during that city’s increasingly violent protests.

Also, the Postal Service has been retiring mail sorting machines for years in response to declining volume.

Still, that doesn’t mean all is well with the Postal Service. Combine two factors related to COVID-19 — an election that will rely on absentee voting as never before and the fact people are more reliant on mail delivery than they have been in years — and now is no time to worry about long-term reform of the Postal Service. This is a time to make sure it can do its job the best it possibly can under the most unusual of circumstances.

Election officials across the nation are worried voters could end up disenfranchised come November.

According to an Associated Press analysis, “If ballots are rejected at the same rate as during this year’s primaries, up to three times as many voters in November could be disenfranchised in key battleground states when compared to the last presidential election. ... It could be even more pronounced in some urban areas where Democratic votes are concentrated and ballot rejection rates trended higher during this year’s primaries.”

Perhaps that last part is why President Donald Trump seems content to let the situation deteriorate, even though, in general and under normal circumstances, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to vote absentee.

In an interview on Fox Business Network, Trump noted that without additional money, the Postal Service won’t have the resources to handle the expected flood of ballots.

“If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money,” Trump said, and Trump has shown no indication of being willing to make a deal.

The last day to apply for an absentee ballot is Oct. 29, and the last day to return it in person or have a ballot postmarked is Nov. 2. But the message here is clear: Do not wait until the last minute. The early surge of requests means many people aren’t, and that seems a good example to follow.

Online: https://www.decaturdaily.com

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Sept. 12

The Gadsden Times on observing National Suicide Prevention Month:

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and now, more than ever, we need to be mindful of our own mental health and that of our loved ones. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has led to increases in anxiety, depression and suicides, but there are things we can do for ourselves and for those who are at risk.

According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans reported symptoms of anxiety at rates three times higher than this same time last year. Symptoms of depression were four times higher than the same period in 2019.

“Overall, 40.9% of respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder (30.9%), symptoms of a trauma- and stressor-related disorder related to the pandemic (26.3%), and having started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 (13.3%),” the report said.

The most at-risk groups for suicide, according to the survey, were people between the ages of 18-24, Hispanics and Black individuals, unpaid caregivers for adults and essential workers.

Suicide rates in the United States have been on the rise for the past two decades, but the isolation many feel due to social distancing, economic losses, loss of loved ones to the disease and anxiety about the disease have the potential of creating a massive mental health crisis in the nation.

There are things we can do, however, to reduce the risk.

First, if you are in crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is there for you. The number is 1-800-273-8255. Their website, suicidepreventionlifeline.org, also has resources to connect people with therapists, support groups and additional resources for specific groups or situations. You can also text the Crisis Text Hotline by texting “Hello” to 741741.

Research has shown the detrimental effect that isolation has on mental health. Social distancing can add to that feeling of being alone, so check in with your friends and family and stay connected to them. The elderly and people caring for an elderly relative may be extra cautious about being out and about because of the virus, so reach out to them more frequently to maintain that connection. Ask them how they are doing and listen to them. Learn the signs and symptoms of someone thinking about suicide. The National Institute of Mental Health, nimh.nih.gov, provides a list of things to listen and look for.

If you are concerned about someone, reduce their risk by asking them if they have a plan and remove any lethal objects that would help them carry out that plan. According to the CDC, the time between someone deciding to take their life and taking action can be as short as five to 10 minutes, and they tend to not substitute another means if the one they had planned is not available.

“Therefore, increasing the time interval between deciding to act and the suicide attempt, for example, by making it more difficult to access lethal means, can be lifesaving,” said the CDC.

Help them connect to professionals who can assist them. This could be a trusted friend or family member, spiritual leader or mental health professional. With the advancement of telemedicine, people can speak with a mental health professional without having to leave home.

Nationally, we have come a long way towards removing the stigma surrounding mental health, but we still have a ways to go. We need to continue having conversations about mental health and treat it the same way we would heart disease, cancer or other illnesses. There is no shame in seeking help and treatment for a mental illness. Speaking out about experiences with mental illness could help others who are afraid to do so or feel isolated because they believe they’re the only ones experiencing it.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. By making mental health care more of a priority in our health care system, in our workplaces and our communities, we have the ability to save lives.

Online: https://www.cullmantimes.com

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Sept. 12

The Dothan Eagle on Alabama's low census participation:

This is the time of year that many Alabamians start to think about our state’s superiority. It’s football season, and most Alabamians — even many Auburn fans and folks who don’t care about sports — fully expect Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide to excel, and likely take the national championship.

It’s too bad some of that enthusiasm doesn’t translate into census participation, because at this point in the national count, Alabama is dead last.

Our state is the only one in the nation with a response rate lower than 80 percent. We’re on track to lose at least one, maybe two, congressional seats, and those in the know predict that the first on the chopping block will be the 2nd District, which covers the Wiregrass area.

Lower representation diminishes our importance on the national stage, and will be felt for the next decade in our proportion of federal dollars for infrastructure, educational and social needs.

Ironically, the census form can be completed online in roughly 10 minutes — that’s a couple of commercial breaks during a televised collegiate football game.

We have every reason to expect dominance on the gridiron. We should make every effort toward a respectable showing in the census count as well.

Take a few minutes and visit 2020Census.gov to fill out your census form today.

Online: https://dothaneagle.com