Democrats press for more stimulus funding to boost mail-in voting

Democrats press for more stimulus funding to boost mail-in voting
© Bonnie Cash/Greg Nash

Democrats and election security advocates are insisting that funds for mail-in and absentee voting be included in a massive economic stimulus package to ensure the November elections proceed smoothly.

The GOP-controlled Senate and Democratic House are split on how much federal funding to provide to states as Election Day draws near amid the cloud of the coronavirus.

Senate Republicans have included $140 million in their coronavirus supplemental bill, while the competing House version calls for $4 billion to boost voting by mail and other measures to ensure elections this year are not interrupted.

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For Senate Democrats, the GOP proposal is not nearly enough.

Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Fauci says focus should be on pausing reopenings rather than reverting to shutdowns; WHO director pleads for international unity in pandemic response State election officials warn budget cuts could lead to November chaos Biden strikes populist tone in blistering rebuke of Trump, Wall Street MORE (Minn.), Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenTrump administration to impose tariffs on French products in response to digital tax Mnuchin: Next stimulus bill must cap jobless benefits at 100 percent of previous income Congress must act now to fix a Social Security COVID-19 glitch and expand, not cut, benefits MORE (Ore.) and Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsBiden opens door to supporting nixing legislative filibuster The Hill's Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Reid Wilson says political winners are governors who listened to scientists and public health experts; 12 states record new highs for seven-day case averages Hillicon Valley: Facebook takes down 'boogaloo' network after pressure | Election security measure pulled from Senate bill | FCC officially designating Huawei, ZTE as threats MORE (Del.) are leading the charge in the Senate to boost funding, calling for $2 billion in election funding Monday.

Coons argued immediate action was needed “to address the threat that COVID-19 poses to our elections this fall.”

“Senators Klobuchar, Wyden, and I are calling on Congress to include funding to expand vote by mail and early voting in the third stimulus package, so Americans across the country can access the ballot box in November,” Coons said in a statement. “No American should have to choose between their health and their right to vote.”

But over in the House, Rep. Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Fauci says focus should be on pausing reopenings rather than reverting to shutdowns; WHO director pleads for international unity in pandemic response State and local officials beg Congress to send more election funds ahead of November The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Teachers' union President Randi Weingarten calls Trump administration plan to reopen schools 'a train wreck'; US surpasses 3 million COVID-19 cases MORE (Ill.), the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, called the $4 billion amount a “dangerous ploy to federalize elections.”

He also took issue with language in the House bill that would require 15 days of early voting in all states and mandates states offer same-day voter registration.

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The $2 billion sought by Democratic senators is the same amount recommended last week in a study by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.

The bulk of the funds would go toward ensuring all citizens have the option for mail-in voting, along with hiring poll workers, boosting absentee ballots, and ensuring in-person polling places are clean and safe.

Klobuchar told reporters during a press call Monday that the funding needed to be included in the stimulus package because of the “unprecedented disruptions” Americans are already facing due to coronavirus.

“Many election officials have expressed concern regarding how this public health emergency will affect upcoming elections,” Klobuchar said. “We must take critical steps to provide states with resources to expand early voting and ensure that every American who wants to vote by mail gets a ballot sent to their door.”

Klobuchar's remarks came shortly after she revealed that her husband had tested positive for coronavirus and was hospitalized.

“I think everyone on this call within a week or two is going to have someone in their own family or a friend that is going to be stricken by this,” Klobuchar said. “We can never forget that this is a democracy, and people must be able to vote.”

The push for more funding comes as multiple states have delayed holding in-person primaries over coronavirus concerns. States that did hold primaries this month, including Florida and Illinois, had low turnout. 

Klobuchar, who alongside Wyden introduced legislation last week to promote mail-in voting, said Monday that when the senators discussed the proposed funding with secretaries of state across the nation, many were enthusiastic.

But whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSara Gideon wins Democratic race to challenge Susan Collins Schumer pushes for elimination of SALT deduction cap in next coronavirus relief bill Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel MORE (R-Ky.) will support a higher level of funding remains uncertain.

More than two dozen local election officials wrote to McConnell and other congressional leaders Sunday, warning that much more than $140 million was needed to “ensure the security and resiliency of our nation’s election system.”

The state officials called the GOP's amount “simply not enough to give all local election officials the support needed to plan and pay for the changes that will be necessary for elections in light of how COVID-19 is creating new norms that cannot be ignored as we continue forward.”

Advocacy groups have also been organizing calls to lawmakers to demand they take steps to protect elections.

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Stand Up America, a political action group, said it has driven thousands of calls to lawmakers since last week calling for election funding.

“Let’s be clear: The coronavirus pandemic is a threat to our health, our economy, and our democracy—and Congress’s response must address all three,” said Sean Eldridge, founder and president of Stand Up America. “Lawmakers must act immediately to provide emergency funding to the states to ensure that every eligible voter can cast their ballot this fall.”

Wyden told reporters that in order to get results at the state level, “you have to intertwine results with dollars.”

“As we have tried to deal with this issue over the last few years, the McConnell position is basically, ‘We will just spend money, and then everything will be taken care of,’” Wyden said.

Coons went further, saying the lack of Republican support for anything beyond low-level funding was due to “voter suppression efforts.”

A spokesperson for McConnell declined to give details about the GOP leader's thoughts on voting by mail. McConnell previously supported $425 million included in a 2020 appropriations package that was sent to the states for increasing election security efforts, but he has repeatedly blocked attempts by Democrats to pass other election security legislation.

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Some states are moving ahead to shore up their elections.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) on Monday announced he would extend the period to vote by mail in the June primary elections to 40 days ahead of Election Day. In Ohio, state legislators are considering a bill that would allow the Ohio secretary of state to mail ballots to voters who do not vote in person during early voting periods.

No matter what the final funding level is, the money will be routed to states through the Election Assistance Commission (EAC).

EAC Chairman Benjamin Hovland told The Hill on Monday that he had been in talks with state officials about what was needed to safely facilitate elections and warned that “probably every jurisdiction in the country should anticipate an increase in vote by mail” due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Hovland, who was nominated to the EAC by President TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pitches Goya Foods products on Twitter Sessions defends recusal: 'I leave elected office with my integrity intact' Former White House physician Ronny Jackson wins Texas runoff MORE, said he believed the amount required by the states to bolster their elections “is a lot closer to $2 billion than it is to $140 million.”

“2020 was going to be a challenging year for election officials, and while I believe they are up to the task, this has added another component,” Hovland said. “We absolutely need to make sure they have the resources and support they need to conduct elections.”