The People is our section for all opinions concerning Black Chicago. In this opinion piece, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle encourages residents to not only register to vote, but to also cast their ballot early.

On Sept. 22, 2020, communities across the nation will celebrate National Voter Registration Day, a nonpartisan holiday celebrating our democracy. 

This day is meant to urge everyone to not only register to vote, but to also take that final step and cast their ballot by Election Day. Yet, as this civic holiday approaches, a dark cloud hovers over the celebration preparations. An essential part of our democracy — one that will have a larger role in the upcoming election than ever before, remains in peril — the United States Postal Service (USPS).

Mail delivery fulfills a critical need for millions of Americans every day. Our seniors rely on it for the safe delivery of life-saving medication, businesses need it to move their products, and during election years such as this one, our citizens trust the USPS to steward millions of mail-in and absentee votes to the ballot box. 

Whether someone lives in a city, a suburb, an ex-urban community, a remote village on a farm or even out of the country, we all count on the Postal Service to deliver the things we care about most as Americans.

Some historians say that this country would not have knit itself together as one without the coast-to-coast communication the Post Office provided even before its founding. The Continental Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin as the first Postmaster General in 1775, a year before the colonies signed the Declaration of Independence.

This sentiment remains as strong today as ever. According to the most recent Pew Research Center survey on the subject, an overwhelming 91 percent of respondents have a favorable view of USPS – a rare thing for a country that prides itself on self-reliance outside of government.

Yet, as we’ve seen over recent days and weeks, there are unprecedented efforts at our highest levels of government to underfund — if not sabotage — this Constitutionally mandated service.

Overtime for employees to ensure timely and complete mail delivery has been put on the chopping block. In many Post Offices, including some in Chicago and Cook County, mail is not being delivered for days – if not weeks. And while Postmaster General Louis DeJoy declared an official suspension of the “operational changes” it had planned for the year, the Trump administration has remained firm in its dedication to block the resources necessary to re-invest in the agency we all hold so dear.

This is unacceptable.

It is unacceptable to our residents and to our postal workers. These individuals are among our most heroic and dedicated essential workers during this harrowing time, delivering record numbers of packages since March. More than 5,400 USPS employees throughout the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19. These heroes — our mail sorters, clerks and carriers — deserve our gratitude, respect and support. 

These efforts would be problematic at any point in time throughout our nation’s history, but during an election year,  President Trump’s actions pose a threat to our democracy like we’ve never seen before.

President Trump continues his false drumbeat about voter fraud despite all the evidence pointing to the contrary. The facts are clear: allegations of fraud linked to mail-in voting are themselves a fraud. 

On a national scale, a recent analysis by the Washington Post found only 372 cases of potential fraud out of roughly 14.6 million ballots cast by mail in 2016 and 2018 — a rate of 0.0025%.  To put it in perspective, you are more likely to be struck by a meteorite than get away with mail-in voter fraud in the United States of America. 

The state of Washington is exemplary in this way — universal voting by mail has been going on since the 1990s, and there have been barely a few dozen instances of fraud. Even states like Utah, a Republican stronghold, have exclaimed the great success of their mail-in voter program.

This should not be a partisan issue. The USPS serves everyone, from the large urban centers of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, to small rural hamlets in Nebraska, Kansas and Wyoming. And, because of COVID-19, many of our most vulnerable citizens will feel uncomfortable voting in person and plan to apply for a mail-in ballot. Even the president himself plans to vote this way.

That’s why we must not be content with recent conciliations made by Postmaster General DeJoy and the president, but instead demand the additional funding necessary to allow the USPS to manage the influx of ballots as we approach November. 

I know we in public life say this every election cycle, but in the backdrop of a global pandemic, a new and dynamic civil rights movement, and the most alarming climate crisis the world has ever encountered, this is the most important election of our lifetimes. 

We must all exercise our democratic right to vote, and whether we like it or not, the USPS will play a more crucial role in this election than ever before. We must all commit to calling our legislators and demand the re-investment for which we’re calling. This will ensure that everyone has not just the right, but the ability to vote during a pandemic. 

For those of you who have received your mail-in application, please fill it out and get your ballot. And for those of you who haven’t received an application, you can still apply online.  Keep the post-mark-by date in mind when you send in your ballot. Don’t wait until the last minute. 

Our democracy depends on it.

is the 35th president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, an office she has held since 2010.