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GOP senator blocks bill to boost mail-in and early voting during pandemic

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntPartisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission Passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy Microsoft, FireEye push for breach reporting rules after SolarWinds hack MORE (R-Mo.) on Tuesday blocked an attempt by Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharOpen-ended antitrust is an innovation killer FBI, DHS and Pentagon officials to testify on Capitol riot Five big takeaways on the Capitol security hearings MORE (D-Minn.) to push legislation through the Senate that would promote mail-in voting and expand early voting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Blunt, who serves as chairman of the elections-focused Senate Rules Committee, blocked Klobuchar’s attempt to pass the bill in a Senate by unanimous consent due to concerns that it would federalize the election process.

“I just don’t think this is the time to make this kind of fundamental change,” Blunt said, pointing to concerns that passing the bill would lead to state and local election officials having less control over elections.

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The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act, introduced by Klobuchar and Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHouse Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike House set for tight vote on COVID-19 relief package On The Money: Democrats scramble to save minimum wage hike | Personal incomes rise, inflation stays low after stimulus burst MORE (D-Ore.) in March, would provide $3 million to the Election Assistance Commission to implement new requirements in the bill. These include requiring states to expand early voting to 20 days prior to the election, and extending the time for absentee ballots to be counted.

“There has been a real desire at the federal level to take over the elections process, I don’t think that’s a good idea, and if it was a good idea, it wouldn’t be a good idea six months before the election,” Blunt added.

The Republican senator noted that while he did not support passage of the bill, he was open to considering sending more funding to states to help address election challenges.

He also announced the Senate Rules Committee would hold a hearing next month on election concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular to examine ways Americans are voting in 2020. 

“I think funding is one thing, helping states help themselves is something that I think we can still do,” Blunt said.

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Congress previously appropriated $400 million for states to address election concerns as part of the CARES Act, a coronavirus stimulus bill signed into law by President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to hold virtual bilateral meeting with Mexican president More than 300 charged in connection to Capitol riot Trump Jr.: There are 'plenty' of GOP incumbents who should be challenged MORE in March. But experts estimate a total of $4 billion is needed to ensure elections can move forward this year. 

Klobuchar, the top Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee, argued that passage of the bill would “ensure voters do not have to choose between their right to vote and their health.”

The blocking of the bill came the same day multiple states held primary elections, with some states including Kentucky and New York facing influxes of absentee ballots that could delay election results for days. 

The elections came in the wake of chaos in Georgia during the state’s primary earlier this month, when voters faced hours-long lines due to malfunctioning voting machines, a lack of polling sites and problems involving mail-in ballots.

Voters in Wisconsin were forced to vote in person in March due to a Supreme Court ruling, with dozens of coronavirus cases reported in the weeks following tied to the election. 

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Klobuchar and other Senate Democrats sent a letter to Blunt and other Republican committee chairs this month asking that they hold hearings to examine what went wrong in Georgia and Wisconsin. The House Intelligence, Judiciary and Administration panels held hearings on election issues over the past weeks. 

While experts have argued in favor of increasing mail-in voting to halt the spread of COVID-19 at the polls, Republicans including President Trump have been vehemently opposed, citing concerns that the practice might increase ballot fraud and other interference efforts. 

Klobuchar on Tuesday pushed back on this narrative, noting that in Oregon, where residents have voted entirely by mail for more than two decades, there have only been only about “a dozen cases of fraud.”

”Support from the federal government is vital because we have seen states struggle when it comes to administering elections,” Klobuchar said. “With fewer than six months left before the general election, Congress must act now to ensure that states have the resources and the funding that they need.”