National security leaders, advocacy groups urge Congress to send election funds to states

Stefani Reynolds

Former national security leaders from Democratic and Republican administrations joined a coalition of left-leaning advocacy groups on Monday in urging Congress to provide states with funds to allow elections to move forward during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and John Kerry, former Homeland Security Secretaries Michael Chertoff, Tom Ridge and Janet Napolitano, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and more than two dozen other leaders sent a letter to House and Senate leaders calling on Congress to provide the funds.

“We know that hostile foreign actors like China, Iran and Russia seek to cast doubt on the integrity of our electoral systems,” they wrote. “These actors influence Americans by exploiting fear and confusion around the voting process. Failing to make sure that all citizens can vote safely and securely will only give them material to further erode faith in our democratic system.”

The leaders asked that Congress include funding to shore up elections in the next COVID-19 stimulus package, noting that the previous $400 million appropriated by Congress in the stimulus bill signed into law by President Trump in March was not nearly enough. Experts argue that states will need up to $4 billion to put on safe and secure elections this year. 

The letter, spearheaded by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, was sent the same day a coalition of left-leaning advocacy groups launched a week of action in an effort to pressure the Senate to approve election funds as part of the House-passed HEROES Act. 

The groups are pressuring Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to bring the stimulus package to the floor for a vote, which would include $3.6 billion to help states address challenges including an increase in mail-in voting, early voting, and training poll workers. 

The coalition is urging McConnell to pass the bill this week as the Senate returns from recess, arguing that time is running out for the funds to be put to use before November. As part of this effort, the groups plan to drive efforts including digital advertisements, text messaging, and community engagement every day this week to increase pressure on the Senate to act. 

The groups pressuring the Senate to act include All On The Line, Color Of Change, Let America Vote/End Citizens United Action Fund, Indivisible, Public Citizen, Stand Up America, and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. 

“We’re running out of time. Failing to pass this funding is not only an abdication of responsibility, but a clear attempt to suppress the vote in the middle of a pandemic,” Sean Eldridge, president and founder of Stand Up America, said in a statement. “The Senate must act this week.”

“In too many states during the primary season, long lines, poll closures, poll worker shortages and insufficient training, broken machines, and unfulfilled absentee ballot requests left many voters—particularly voters of color—without a voice,” Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a separate statement. 

She emphasized that “states and local governments need funding immediately so they can prepare for the election in November and implement common-sense reforms like no-excuse absentee ballots, early in-person voting, and online voter registration.”

The groups sent a letter to McConnell and other Republican leaders earlier this month urging him to bring the Senate back from recess to vote on the HEROES Act. 

The push from the groups and former leaders comes as the elections-focused Senate Rules Committee prepares to hold a hearing Wednesday to examine 2020 election preparedness. Witnesses expected to appear include West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner (R) and Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett (R). 

Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) blocked an effort by Democrats in June to pass legislation to expand mail-in and early voting during the pandemic, saying it would federalize elections. 

But Blunt said he would hold the hearing and that he may support adding election funds to the next Senate coronavirus stimulus package.

McConnell has not said if he would back further funding. He did support including funds for elections in the last stimulus package. 

The former leaders and groups underlined the need to approve funding as quickly as possible to ensure the integrity of elections this year. 

“Americans should feel confident that their election officials have the resources needed to provide healthy options for all voters and ensure integrity in electoral outcomes,” the former leaders wrote. “We urge you to provide funding to make sure our elections are safe and secure.”

Tags Chuck Hagel Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Election Security James Clapper John Kerry Mitch McConnell Roy Blunt
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