Black female celebrities, mothers of victims push Senate to pass mail-in voting legislation
A coalition of Black female celebrities, including singer Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, and the mothers of Black Americans killed by law enforcement urged the Senate on Thursday to pass legislation to boost mail-in voting and increase equality at the polls.
The Black female celebrities and leaders sent a letter to Senate leaders urging passage of the $3 trillion HEROES Act, which was passed by the House in May and included $3.6 billion to help states address election challenges. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has opposed the overall bill, describing it as a “liberal wish list.”
The women, led by Tina Knowles-Lawson and members of Mothers of the Movement, pointed to recent disenfranchisement of Americans at polls in Wisconsin and Georgia due to long lines, fewer polling stations, confusion over mail-in voting, and malfunctioning voting machines as underlining the critical nature of passing the HEROES Act.
“This is modern-day voter suppression plain and simple,” the women wrote. “Voters in all these states risked their health, and that of their communities, simply to make their voices heard. People should be able to exercise their constitutional right to vote and stay healthy, even during a pandemic. We should not have to choose between public health and a functioning democracy.”
Individuals who signed the letter also included the mothers of Black victims of police, including the mothers of Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland and Eric Garner.
Other celebrities who signed on included actresses Octavia Spencer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Kerry Washington and Taraji P. Henson, along with singers Solange Knowles, Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland.
“In passing this legislation, you will take an affirmative step toward declaring the Black lives matter,” the coalition of Black women wrote. “You will build an America as good as its ideals. And you will lead the country–thanks to the creation of a more accountable democracy in which all Americans’ voices are heard–towards a long-sought moment in which no mother need wonder: Will my son or daughter not make it home tonight because of the color of their skin?”
Congress already appropriated $400 million to states as part of the CARES Act signed into law by President Trump in March, but experts have estimated states will need $4 billion to address new election challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mail-in voting has become a heated topic of debate, with many Republicans including President Trump pushing back against the idea based on concerns around increased voter fraud and federalizing elections.
A group of former Republican officials and conservative-leaning leaders led by the R Street Institute on Thursday pushed back against concerns around mail-in voting, sending a separate letter to the leaders of both the House and the Senate asking Congress to send states federal election funding.
The conservative officials asked Congress to invest in elections, such as through sending funds to address expanded mail-in voting, election infrastructure modernization, and ensuring poll workers are provided with sanitization supplies and personal protective equipment.
“As the COVID-19 crisis and stay-at-home orders upend life as we know it, there has been an unprecedented strain placed on our election infrastructure and, indeed, our democracy,” the officials wrote. “Greater investment is needed to allow states to modernize their infrastructure, expand options like absentee voting and ensure that Americans are not forced to put their lives at risk in order to participate in the democratic process.”
Officials who signed on included former Reps. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) and Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.), along with former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, and anti-Trump group Republicans for Rule of Law founder Sarah Longwell.
“As fiscal conservatives, we understand the importance of restraint and sound fiscal policy in times of crisis,” the conservative officials wrote. “However, there is perhaps no investment more worthy than protecting the legitimacy of our democratic process and ensuring that our elections can be held safely and securely.”
Voting rights advocacy groups and Democratic members of Congress have pushed for months to increase mail-in voting, particularly following chaos at the polls during primary elections in Wisconsin and Georgia.
Earlier this week, Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) blocked Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-Minn.) attempt to pass legislation that would expand mail-in and early voting during the pandemic. While Blunt, whose committee has jurisdiction over election issues, was opposed to the bill, he noted that he may support sending additional election funding to states in the next COVID-19 stimulus bill.