Advocacy groups pressure Senate to reconvene and boost election funding

Advocacy groups pressure Senate to reconvene and boost election funding

A coalition of left-leaning advocacy groups called on the Senate Friday to return from its July recess to vote on legislation to increase election funding during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The more than two dozen groups, led by advocacy organization Stand Up America, sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCoronavirus talks collapse as negotiators fail to reach deal Pelosi, Schumer say White House declined T coronavirus deal COVID-19 bill limiting liability would strike the wrong balance MORE (R-Ky.) and other GOP leaders asking that the Senate immediately be called back to Washington, D.C., to vote on and pass legislation allocating $3.6 billion to states to help with election challenges during the pandemic.

These funds were included in the House-passed HEROES Act, a Democratic-backed coronavirus stimulus package that McConnell has blocked in the Senate, describing the bill as a “liberal wish list.” 

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“With over 130,000 Americans dead and cases surging across the country, responding to the COVID-19 pandemic should be the Senate’s top priority,” the groups wrote. “Yet, the Senate has willfully failed to act under your leadership and remains in recess despite the urgent need to address the worsening pandemic and safeguard our rapidly-approaching elections.”

Other advocacy groups that signed on included Greenpeace USA, Color of Change, the American Association of People with Disabilities, the League of Women Voters, Public Citizen and UnidosUS, among others. 

The Senate is currently scheduled to be out through July 17. 

McConnell laid out plans earlier this week for what will be included in the next Senate coronavirus stimulus package, including potential direct payments to Americans, but has not yet publicly said whether he will support election funding. McConnell previously blocked legislation on election security, but did back millions in election security funds sent to states over the past two years. 

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSkepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal GOP expects Senate to be in session next week without coronavirus deal House Republicans introduce legislation to give states 0 million for elections MORE (R-Mo.), the chairman of the elections-focused Senate Rules Committee, announced Friday that his committee would hold a hearing on election concerns on July 22, which will feature the testimony of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett (R) and West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner (R). 

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“State and local election officials face a unique set of challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Blunt said in a statement. “We need to be sure they have the resources and, importantly, the flexibility to address those challenges in ways that best fit their needs.”

Blunt announced that he planned to hold the hearing last month when he went to the Senate floor to block Democratic legislation that would expand mail-in and early voting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Blunt cited concerns around federalizing elections and the short time prior to the November vote in blocking the legislation, but said he would be open to sending the states further funding. 

Congress appropriated $400 million to states to help address election challenges from the pandemic as part of the stimulus package signed into law by President TrumpDonald John TrumpJoe Arpaio loses bid for his old position as sheriff Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Trump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet MORE in March. It has also given over $800 million to states to boost election security since 2018.

Earlier this week, Democrats on a House Appropriations Committee panel proposed funding legislation for fiscal 2021 that included a further $500 million to address vulnerabilities in election systems.

Blunt pointed to the various funding packages on Friday in noting that he hoped the hearing would lead to a “wide-ranging discussion on how states have utilized federal grant funding, how they are preparing for the upcoming elections, and how the federal government can play a constructive role in assisting state and locally-led efforts.”

The advocacy groups warned on Friday that it was essential for the Senate to return from recess to vote on election-focused legislation.

“Given the urgency, the Senate must immediately return to business to consider legislation — including the HEROES Act — that grants states funding to administer safe, fair, and accessible elections this fall,” the groups wrote. “Failing to return from recess puts our democracy at risk and is an abdication of responsibility that the American people cannot afford from their representatives right now.”