Senators, bipartisan state officials press Congress for more election funds

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A group of Democratic senators and bipartisan secretaries of state from across the nation piled on the pressure Thursday for Congress to include funding to help states grapple with holding elections in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a phone call with the press, Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), and Chris Coons (Del.) stressed the need to send states at least $2 billion to implement increased mail-in voting, expand early voting and hire and train younger poll workers less vulnerable to the virus.

They argued this was particularly important following the Wisconsin primary this week, during which voters were forced to vote in-person following a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court that the state would not be allowed to count absentee ballots mailed in after Election Day. The decision led to long lines and confusion at some polling places in the state. 

“Our goal today is to finally generate real, bipartisan support in the Congress for safe voting so our country does not see another grotesque spectacle like we did this week in Wisconsin,” Wyden said. 

The $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package signed into law by President Trump already gave states $400 million for elections, which also included a requirement for states to match the funds by 20 percent. 

But in the face of mounting concerns around elections, state officials said they needed more, and pushed for the 20 percent match to be removed due to lower state revenues. They urged Congress to includes these efforts in the next coronavirus spending bill. 

“The $400 million appropriated for election administration in the last relief package … it’s simply not enough,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) told reporters. “While the COVID-19 pandemic has created an urgent need for federal funding, it also reminds us that we should not wait for a crisis to adequately invest in our election infrastructure and systems.”

The secretaries of state of almost 10 other states, including Republicans, joined Padilla in calling for more funds, though they disagreed on whether the funds should be sent to states along with mail-in voting requirements. 

Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman (R), whose state votes entirely by mail already, argued that elections officials needed to “put aside partisanship” and come up with a way to work together so elections could move forward. 

West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner (R) told reporters that while the $400 million in funding was “appreciated,” he cautioned against moving towards “sweeping changes” to voting on a permanent basis.

“We don’t need outside federal guidelines right now to tell us how to run the election, our concern over vote by mail is concern over election fraud,” Warner said. “We don’t want to expand opportunities for misuse of the election process.”

Warner’s comments have been echoed in recent weeks by President Trump and other Republicans leaders, who have resisted moving towards vote-by-mail due to concerns around voter fraud. Trump tweeted Wednesday that he thought voting this way could hurt Republican chances in the election.

“Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting,” the president said. “Democrats are clamoring for it. Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason,  doesn’t work out well for Republicans.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) separately slammed Democrats on Thursday for their efforts to include funding for elections in the next coronavirus relief package, saying they were “concerned about the wrong thing.”

But Klobuchar, who along with Wyden introduced separate legislation last month to increase mail-in and absentee voting, said that changes to elections in the face of the coronavirus pandemic were part of preserving the right to vote. 

“We have to prepare so people don’t lose their right to vote in November,” Klobuchar said Thursday. “We don’t see voting as a partisan issue, it’s the right of every American.”

She noted that the effort to get more funds, if not requirements on how to use them, had the backing of Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo), a key figure on election issues. 

“We are actually very hopeful about the work we can do to get the funding, and we are also hopeful to get reforms at the federal level,” Klobuchar said. “Let us go forward and get this done.”

Tags Absentee ballot Amy Klobuchar Chris Coons Coronavirus Donald Trump Early voting Election Security Kevin McCarthy mail-in voting Postal voting Ron Wyden Roy Blunt Voting
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