Democrats press Trump, GOP for funding for mail-in ballots
Democrats and voting rights groups on Thursday pressed President Trump and Republicans to support more funding for elections this year, saying it was crucial to include money ensuring people could cast ballots as part of the next coronavirus stimulus package.
Lawmakers and voting advocacy groups took part in what amounted to a sustained campaign calling for the country to ensure people could cast votes either in person or by mail despite the coronavirus crisis.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) argued on one press call Thursday that at least $1.6 billion more was needed to guarantee Americans could vote in November.
“This next month is critical for our democracy, I can’t think of another time when we faced something quite like this in terms of our limitations,” Klobuchar told reporters. “I think we can do this, I really do, we simply must make sure that people have the right to vote.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wants to include more funding for mail-in and absentee voting in the next stimulus measure, which followed her efforts last month to get $4 billion for elections included in the $2.2 trillion measure signed into law last week.
The proposal has support from other Democrats, but they face opposition from Trump and other Republicans who oppose requirements on how states would be able to spend the money.
Trump said this week that election changes proposed by Democrats would hurt Republican chances to win elections in November.
“The things they had in there were crazy, they had things, levels of voting that if you ever agreed to, you would never have a Republican elected in this country again,” Trump said of the original House stimulus proposal during an appearance on “Fox & Friends.” The proposal included requirements for states to expand both in-person and mail-in voting.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) described funding elections as a “distraction” from more important coronavirus-related issues, saying it was an attempt by Democrats to “force partisan objectives” into congressional response efforts.
It is unclear whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would support sending the states more money for elections. He backed the addition of $400 million to the last stimulus package, but has repeatedly blocked efforts by Democrats to push through election security legislation, expressing concerns around federalizing elections.
McConnell’s support for another stimulus package in general is also unclear, with the Senate leader describing Pelosi’s comments this week about another stimulus as “premature.”
Voting rights advocates say states and local communities desperately need the money.
“Election officials are facing unprecedented challenges this year, and they need more resources from Congress to help keep elections safe, accessible, and secure amid the pandemic,” Lawrence Norden, director of the Election Reform Program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, said during a separate press call Thursday.
The Brennan Center put out a report last month estimating that at least $2 billion was needed to ensure Americans were able to vote in the general election.
“We’re running out of time to get this right,” Sean Eldridge, the director of political nonprofit Stand Up America, said during the same call. “None of us know how long this pandemic will last, and no American should have to choose between protecting their health and exercising their right to vote.”
Other groups joining in efforts around mail-in voting Thursday included the Native American Rights Fund, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the End Citizens United Action Fund, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Microsoft is also pushing the issue, suggesting as part of a set of new policy recommendations that governments look at expanding absentee ballots and curbside voting.
The company urged the federal government to provide state and local officials “consistent funding” to boost both election security and coronavirus response efforts.
Many Republican leaders at the state level back more funding or are moving forward with mail-in voting efforts.
Wyden described this support as “a bit of a disconnect between conservatives at the local level and what we have been up against in D.C. in regards to Mitch McConnell.”
Both Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) recently announced they would send absentee ballot request forms to every registered voter for upcoming primary elections.
Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman (R) joined Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) in penning a CNN op-ed this week pushing Congress to appropriate “billions” more to states for elections, arguing this effort did not need to be partisan.
“Election officials work in a bipartisan manner daily, and both of us have worked with governors of the opposing party to implement successful voting reforms in the past,” Hobbs and Wyman wrote. “We need Congress to take the same approach to securing our elections during this pandemic and provide the financial resources states need to protect the future of our country and democracy.”
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) joined representatives of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at the University of California at Los Angeles on Thursday to underline the urgency of getting funds to states now, saying he had been talking with other secretaries of states “non-stop” about these efforts.
“The time is now to make that decision,” Padilla said of moving to vote by mail.
While the state officials and voting rights advocates pushed hard Thursday for more funding, they also emphasized their appreciation for the $400 million already on its way to states as part of an earlier stimulus.
These funds will be funneled through the Election Assistance Commission, which put out a detailed project timeline for implementing vote-by-mail by November. The timeline, which includes everything from designing ballots to security requirements, highlights the time crunch involved to adapting elections to reflect coronavirus challenges.
Many states already allow mail-in voting in certain circumstances, while four states — Oregon, Washington, Hawaii and Colorado — only use mail-in voting.
Wyden, who was elected to the Senate through the use of mail-in voting, emphasized that efforts to change elections did not constitute “reinventing the wheel.”
“Four hundred million is a down payment, we are going to keep pushing until we get to $2 billion,” Wyden said.
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