We’ve all seen the long waits and voter suppression in states such as Wisconsin and Georgia, where citizens were forced to stand in lines for hours and hours to cast a ballot.Those televised scenes make us look like a Banana Republic.

In Rhode Island, the recent presidential primary revealed a voting regime that failed to provide mail ballots to an untold number of voters, including me.

We’ve all seen, too, the vigorous protests against police violence in black and brown communities. To the outrage against violence by cops we ought to add voting.

Why does voter suppression always seem to infect minority communities far more than white communities? The lines during the primaries in minority neighborhoods in Atlanta and Milwaukee are a national disgrace.

Closer to home, we must reckon with the harsh truth that poorly run elections too often land in poor communities of color. That’s what happened during the 2012 general election in Providence, where folks at the Juanita Sanchez precinct on the city’s south side stood in lines for hours on a chilly November evening. The voting machines always work in Scituate, Barrington and Westport.

The current voting system breeds cynicism and distrust in government.

In Massachusetts, Clyburn Crawford is executive director of MassVOTE, which seeks to increase voter registration in neighborhoods of color. She recently told the Boston Globe that her sister is so fed up with the way our government works that she doesn’t think voting matters.

If voting doesn’t matter, why do some politicians work so hard to suppress the votes of the poor and left behind?

Republicans, from President Trump on down, say that reforms such as increased mail-in ballots will result in fraud. Democrats are more worried about suppression. It’s as if both parties are more concerned about winning than whether the voting system runs well.

There is scant evidence that mail voting is fraught with fraud. Politicians who rail against dishonest mail elections can’t point to any credible cases. In Rhode Island, it’s a felony to commit voter impersonation or mail ballot chicanery. 

When it comes to presidential elections, Republicans have a built-in advantage. That’s because the Electoral College gives an over-representation to predominantly white and rural states. This means more clout for regions of the country that are falling farther away economically, culturally and demographically from cities and suburbs. 

In the 21st Century, Republicans have won three presidential contests. In two of those -- 2000 and 2016--the Democratic candidate has won the popular vote, but lost the White House due to the electoral college. One has to wonder how long a government can retain the trust of its citizens if a majority no longer holds sway.

For too long, our nation has been plagued by apathy and lagging voter turnout. Yet there is hope in the dreadful waits we’ve seen in places of color. You have to admire the persistence of people who endure this to cast their ballots.

There is hope, too, in some of the concrete proposals for change that have been advanced in recent weeks. The good government group Common Cause has proposed a series of reforms to ensure honest, accessible balloting.

These include mailing ballot applications to voters in July that would allow voters to request ballots in both the September primaries and the November election.Also making sure that there are secure ballot drop off sites in every city and town. And establishing a 20-day early voting period so that in-person precincts aren’t flooded on election day. The Massachusetts House has passed such legislation; it’s time for the Rhode Island General Assembly to do the same.

And the Rhode Island Board of Elections, which meets tomorrow, needs to explain why some didn’t get mail ballots on time.

In a time of pandemic peril, we must minimize health risks, get rid of long waits and increase access to struggling communities. No less than the legitimacy of our democracy is at stake. 

Scott Mackay's commentary can be heard on Mondays at 6:45 AM, 8:45 AM and 5:45 PM.