Congress: Don’t let safe elections fall victim to COVID-19

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In Rochester Hills, Mich., where I’m mayor, I’ve seen incredible feats of resilience and strength as we have fought to minimize the spread of COVID-19. I am made proud every day by what the people here have done to prevent infection and provide support to those requiring care.

At this point in the pandemic, I know what Rochester Hills requires to stay on the rebound. But, like so many communities across the country, we’re facing a dual challenge: significant declines in revenue combined with unforeseen expenses. As president of The United States Conference of Mayors, I’ve been working with leaders from all over the country who are grappling with budget cuts and layoffs. These are the same mayors who are leading the pandemic response on the ground.

And these hardships are hitting our election offices especially hard at a time when they can least afford it — months before a presidential election. Free, fair, and secure elections are critical to our democracy. We need the federal government to provide financial aid because we can’t do this alone.

In Michigan, we will have our state primary on August 4. I’m seeing firsthand the intense preparations by our election officials, everything that they must reconfigure and plan for in order to make voting safe for voters while maintaining high levels of security and accuracy in the process. Those adjustments are not free. And now our election officials must place orders for the additional equipment and supplies they need to accommodate voters in November.

Will safe elections become yet another casualty of COVID-19? 

Ensuring Safe Elections” — a joint report released in April by the R Street Institute, the Alliance for Securing Democracy, PittCyber and the Brennan Center — estimated Michigan’s total costs for administering safe elections during the pandemic to be at least $94.9 million. Rochester Hills and the state’s other local governments would need to cover at least $81.4 million of that total. Our local election officials are working day and night to hold safe and secure elections and now we need Congress to do its part and provide funding for our election officials.

In April, the federal government put some funding towards safe elections. It is far from enough. The CARES Act provided $400 million in grants to state and local governments, of which Michigan gets $11.2 million. That only puts a dent in our state’s costs of at least $81.4 million. All told, the funding requirement of all 50 states and their local governments is significant, and we call on Congress to provide the funding needed.

Rochester Hills is one of more than 8,000 election jurisdictions in the United States. All of them have election officials like the ones with whom I work — people dedicated to maintaining safety, accessibility, accuracy, and fairness in voting this year. These election officials can’t wait around for months for funding. Congress must give them the financial support required for the job, now. Our democracy depends on it.

Mayor Bryan K. Barnett is serving his fourth term as mayor of Rochester Hills, Michigan. He is the president of The United States Conference of Mayors.

Tags 2020 election CARES Act Coronavirus COVID-19 mail-in ballots Michigan Postal voting Social distancing Voting

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