When Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea announced that conducting tomorrow’s presidential primary primarily by mail it seemed like the best way to ensure that voters wouldn’t have to choose between casting a ballot and jeopardizing their health.

The traditional in-person system has many pitfalls during these anxious times. Most of the poll workers are elderly. Some of the groups that face traditional voter suppression and have low turnouts are among the most vulnerable to this infection. In Rhode Island, as in much of the rest of the country, the African-American and other minority communities have been hurt disproportionally by COVID-19.

Gorbea’s response was to send mail ballot applications to the entire state voter roll of about 780,000. She picked a nothing much burger of an election for this test. On the Republican side, President Donald Trump is the sure winner.Much the same is the case among Democrats, where presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden has the endorsement of the other major candidate on the ballot, Vermont Sen. Bernie sanders, winner of the 2016 state primary.The only decisions voters will make is which delegates will attend the national political conventions--if they are ever held.

Reluctantly, I decided to try the mail ballot route. I’m not a fan of mail elections. As someone weaned in politics with Theodore White’s novelistic, nostalgic Making of the President books, I always looked forward to the excitement of election day and night. It was, as White described, that one day of great national “stirring” when a free people exercised their right to self-government from sea to shining sea. Then parked in front of televisions to watch the returns roll in and the drama unfold.

But times have changed. I’m older, in the age group vulnerable to infection. My wife is an infectious disease doctor. We decided the best route in this election would be mail in. The day after our ballot applications arrived in our mailbox in Bristol, we sent them out. She got hers back in a timely fashion and voted by mail. My ballot still hasn’t arrived.

I wish I could say I’m alone, but I’m not. Social media has lit up with Rhode Islanders who say they haven’t gotten ballots. And the state elections board says they have received many inquiries from voters who haven’t received ballots.

Gorbea told the state Board of Elections there wasn’t a way to anticipate how difficult it would be to mail hundreds of thousands of ballots to voters amid a pandemic. Obviously that’s not acceptable. That’s what Steven Brown thinks. The executive director of the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says some votes won’t get counted and the only positive side to this is the low stakes in this election.

The local and national joust over mail ballots has become --like everything else nowadays--fraught with partisanship. From President Trump on down, Republicans have railed against mail ballots, asserting they promote widespread fraud. There is no evidence of that. And some Democrats see hypocrisy in play. Both Trump and the first lady voted by mail in the recent Florida primary. The president’s press secretary voted many times by mail in her native Florida.

Gorbea’s spokesman was polite and helpful when I asked for help in deciphering this mess. But he couldn’t provide a concrete answer except to point a finger at the Board of Elections and the local canvassing authorities.

Steve Erikson, a board member, has promised serious post-primary investigation by the election panel. Gorbea must do the same. And the General Assembly ought to convene the House Oversight Committee for a serious inquiry, as state Republicans have called for on the COVID-19 nursing home fiasco.

As we enter the most contentious presidential election in the nation’s modern history, the integrity and accessibility of the voting system must be the first order of business.