It is hard to say whether Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s assessment of the political rhetoric surrounding mail-in ballots is accurate, but he is right that hand wringing over a possibly rigged election won’t accomplish anything.

Given the potential volume of mail-in ballots because of the novel coronavirus, it may be days or even weeks before we know the results of the Nov. 3 election. If 2016 was any gauge, we also know that lines will form during early voting and at the precincts on Election Day — even with COVID-19 in the mix.

Let’s not muddy the waters with speculation, at least until there’s empirical evidence of trouble.

As Senior Reporter Robert Houk reported in Tuesday’s edition, Hargett addressed the East Tennessee Republican Club on Monday as one of his stops through Northeast Tennessee. He chided both parties about preconceived notions regarding the outcome of November’s election — the GOP’s position that fraudulent mail-in ballots could sway results and the Democrats’ narrative that the U.S. Postal Service is being used to suppress the vote.

Either, both or neither could be true. There’s certainly reason for concern about election meddling and the need to prevent it, but let’s not judge the outcome before it arrives.

Hargett said there are “many forces” — both foreign and domestic — attempting to undermine the public’s confidence in the nation’s electoral process. “Folks, I want to caution you,” he said. “Just because it’s on Facebook, doesn’t mean it’s true.”

Hallelujah.

While our governments should do everything possible to prevent fraud and ensure the validity of results, using the specter of rigged results to undermine voter confidence is no way to win an election.

Instead, we would like to hear more from both parties about what they propose to heal this country on several fronts. We need a real playbook to overcome the novel coronavirus health crisis and its economic fallout. We need more than sound bites about helping small businesses and families in need. We need an honest dialogue about climate change. We need real commitment to social justice. We need a productive conversation about moving past the increasingly bitter and dangerous political divide crippling our progress and tearing communities and even families apart.

The bitterness has clouded our judgment to the point we have callously devalued human life itself — right down to the lives of our fellow citizens and neighbors.

This election is a referendum on what this nation strives to be, not just who will occupy the White House or sit on local school boards and commissions. If you think our state and local elections don’t involve this same dynamic, think again. Recent events in Johnson City should make that clear.

It may take generations to move us out of the quagmire we’ve built. We’ve done this to ourselves by buying into talking heads on cable television, worshipping politicians, disregarding the needs of the disenfranchised and especially by fighting unwinnable virtual wars on social media.

Our best hope in this situation is to vote with good conscience. Vote for values that will move this nation forward.

Don’t vote out of anger. Don’t vote out of fear. Don’t vote out of hate. Vote with resolve.

Don’t let supposition undermine your faith in this republic’s democratic principles and institutions.

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