Despite virus threat, Black voters wary of voting by mail

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FILE - In this April 7, 2020, file photo, voters wait in line to cast ballots at Washington High School while ignoring a stay-at-home order over the coronavirus threat to vote in the state's presidential primary election in Milwaukee. Many Black voters are skeptical of voting by mail even as states seek to expand that option during the coronavirus pandemic. Decades of racism and voter disenfranchisement are at the heart of the uneasy choice facing Black voters. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

DETROIT – Despite fears that the coronavirus pandemic will worsen, Victor Gibson said he's not planning to take advantage of Michigan’s expanded vote-by-mail system when he casts his ballot in November.

The retired teacher from Detroit just isn't sure he can trust it. Many Black Americans share similar concerns and are planning to vote in person on Election Day, even as mail-in voting expands to more states as a safety precaution during the pandemic.

For many, historical skepticism of a system that tried to keep Black people from the polls and worries that a mailed ballot won't get counted outweigh the prospect of long lines and health dangers from a virus that's disproportionately affected communities of color. Ironically, suspicion of mail-in voting aligns with the views of President Donald Trump, whom many Black voters want out of office.

Trump took it a step further Tuesday, suggesting a “delay” to the Nov. 3 presidential election — which would take an act of Congress — as he made unsubstantiated allegations in a tweet that increased mail-in voting will result in fraud.

“I would never change my mind” about voting in person in November, said Gibson, who is Black and hopes Trump loses. “I always feel better sliding my ballot in. We’ve heard so many controversies about missing absentee ballots.”

Decades of disenfranchisement are at the heart of the uneasy choice facing Black voters, one of the Democratic Party’s most important voting groups. Widespread problems with mail-in ballots during this year's primary elections have added to the skepticism at a time when making Black voices heard has taken on new urgency during a national reckoning over racial injustice.

Patricia Harris of McDonough, Georgia, south of Atlanta, voted in person in the primary and said she will do the same in November.

“I simply do not trust mail-in or absentee ballots,” said Harris, 73, a retired event coordinator at Albany State University. “After the primary and the results were in, there were thousands of absentee ballots not counted.”