We are facing an unprecedented time in our country – a time when we are advised not to go out, not to have in-person interactions, and even not to be within six feet of another person. These guidelines, while they are protecting many Americans from spreading or contracting COVID-19, also raise much uncertainty.
One question at the forefront of the news cycle this week: How will states safely hold the 2020 elections in this country?
Take Tuesday’s elections in Wisconsin for example, which were important for many reasons. While the media focused on this election as a presidential primary, it was also a general election for many of Wisconsin’s local officials. Delaying this election would have been the equivalent of delaying the general election in November - a decision that should have been bipartisan. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
There were last minute decisions made by both parties over concerns about whether they should move entirely to vote by mail or continue to hold in-person voting. In the end, they were able to keep their in-person voting polls open, but not without many questioning its potential risk to public safety.
In addition, we’ve learned that Milwaukee’s Election Commission mishandled hundreds of absentee ballot requests and failed to fully utilize available resources of the National Guard to assist at polling locations, like other areas of Wisconsin did, which raises more questions about their in-person voting and how it was executed.
In-person voting hasn’t been interrupted in this country through many national emergencies, including during the Civil War and the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. Some election experts would say that you can’t take away the option for in-person voting without disenfranchising voters who may not trust alternative methods of casting their ballot.
However, even if you wanted to completely move to eliminate in-person voting, anyone who has ever administered an election could tell you that you can’t simply adopt those kind of election changes overnight.
That doesn’t mean the Democrats in Congress aren’t going to force you to do it anyway.
While the Senate was working tirelessly to come to a bipartisan agreement on a phase three coronavirus relief package for Americans, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden to take part in CNN town hall in Baltimore Manchin on finishing agenda by Halloween: 'I don't know how that would happen' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Build Back Better items on chopping block MORE (D-Calif.) unveiled her own phase three proposal. Unfortunately, it wasn’t solely focused on helping provide relief to struggling citizens. Instead, it included $4 billion in additional funding for states to go towards their elections, so long as they adopted the required Democrat federal mandates – like mandating polling locations, allowing ballots to be cast at any precinct, forcing same day voter registration, and adopting a complete vote-by-mail/absentee voting system.
Democrats also attempted to sneak in provisions to nationalize ballot harvesting, meaning a political operative would be able to come to your home, collect your absentee ballot, and turn it into the polling location for you. Who’s to say that operative even makes it to the polling location if they find out you’re voting against someone they support? We saw this occur in North Carolina’s 9th District when a political operative illegally harvested ballots to help rig an election, which resulted in the state calling for a new election. Not only is ballot harvesting a voting process that’s ripe for fraud, but it’s also pointless if an absentee ballot already has prepaid postage.
How do Democrats expect states to get these programs running in the six months before November? Perhaps a better question, what does ballot harvesting have to do with coronavirus prevention?
The push for these election provisions aren’t new from the Democrats. They’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to get these mandates, and other similar election requirements, forced upon states at several occasions this Congress.
Article 1 Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution designates that, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof…” meaning that states, not the federal government, are responsible for administering their own elections.
To be clear, I’m not saying I disagree with voting by mail or other voting methods that may make it easier to vote during this pandemic, as long as it’s done securely to protect Americans’ votes.
According to Politico, multiple election experts have warned that states who do not already have a robust vote-by-mail system in place will not be able to stand up an entirely mail voting system in time for the November election.
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to elections. Every state is different and has unique needs, and they should have the autonomy to be creative and innovative during these times.
State election administrators are already working around the clock to make sure their elections can be successfully run amid this pandemic. Why would we make their jobs harder?
There is a concentrated effort by the Democrats to make the most of this crisis to push their partisan agenda of election legislation. Thankfully, the coronavirus relief package that became law, the CARES Act, contained $400 million for states to make coronavirus preparations in their elections without the federal mandates the Democrats sought.
Instead of telling states what the federal government thinks is best, we should be listening to the state and local election administrators who are on the front lines. We should ensure they are receiving the resources Congress has allocated, and we should allow them to make the best decisions for their states’ needs.
As Congress continues its efforts to help Americans amid this national emergency, we must prevent attempts to push a political agenda and instead keep our eye on the ball. Voting is a fundamental right that we must work together to protect at all costs.
Now more than ever, Americans should be able to trust in their elections and depend on their votes being counted and their voices being heard.
Davis represents the 13th District of Illinois and is ranking member of the House Administration Committee.