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House panel details 'serious' concerns around Florida, Georgia, Texas, Wisconsin elections

House panel details 'serious' concerns around Florida, Georgia, Texas, Wisconsin elections
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Democrats on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis on Wednesday detailed “serious” concerns around the ability of Florida, Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin to hold safe and secure elections during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a report published ahead of a hearing on ensuring free and fair elections, the subcommittee pointed to concerns around the lack of expansion of mail-in voting, poll worker shortages and the safety of polling places as being barriers for elections in those four states this year. 

“The Select Subcommittee’s investigation revealed that these states face the risk of serious problems in the general election, including inadequate polling places and shortages of poll workers,” the subcommittee wrote. “In some of these states, these risks are exacerbated by state policies restricting mail-in voting and early voting.”

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In the course of its investigation, the subcommittee sent letters to the chief election administrators in all four states asking for details around their election plans.

Texas was of particular concern to the panel, with the state one of the six that has refused to expand mail-in voting to allow coronavirus concerns to count as a reason to vote absentee. The panel noted that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) had taken steps to sue counties trying to circumvent this. 

In addition, the subcommittee revealed that, according to documents obtained by the panel, previous poll workers in 127 out of 254 Texas counties do not plan to work elections this year, and that election officials have concerns around ensuring the safety of polling places and the ability to prevent long lines. 

“In effect, the state is forcing most voters to show up in person if they want to exercise their right to vote, which could lead to longer lines and more crowded polling sites on Election Day,” the subcommittee wrote. 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) did expand early voting for the general election by six days, but the subcommittee concluded that “more must be done to ensure counties have sufficient polling locations and staff.”

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The subcommittee also detailed strong concerns around Georgia’s elections, criticizing the decision by state officials not to send absentee ballot request forms to every registered voter for the general election as occurred during the primary elections. 

Further, the subcommittee noted that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) had reported that the state had so far only identified 5,000 potential poll workers out of an estimated 20,000 that will be needed.

“A shortage of poll workers in Georgia could lead to polling place closures similar to those voters faced during the state’s primary,” the subcommittee wrote, referring to long lines faced by voters in Georgia during the June primaries. “State election officials should work with Georgia counties to ensure that they have the poll workers they need, especially for counties with survey responses indicating shortages.”

The subcommittee also criticized Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisFlorida become the third state to cross 1 million COVID-19 cases The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump, Biden clash over transition holdup, pandemic plans MORE’s (R) decision not to expand early voting beyond 15 days and the decision by state officials to defer to counties to recruit poll workers, while Wisconsin faces a potential poll worker crisis as it struggles to recruit 30,000 workers and is considering using the National Guard to fill in gaps. 

The panel urged the four states to comply with election guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that suggest states create alternatives to in-person voting to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

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“With just two months left before the general election, states cannot simply defer to local election officials to address these problems," the subcommittee wrote. "Instead, states should move swiftly and proactively to implement CDC recommendations and ensure a free, fair, and safe election."

Subcommittee Chairman James Clyburn (D-S.C.) highlighted the report at a hearing Wednesday, during which he urged the federal government to pass legislation to help states facing election funding shortfalls and to support the U.S. Postal Service. He also criticized President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal watchdog accuses VOA parent company of wrongdoing under Trump appointee Lawsuit alleges 200K Georgia voters were wrongly purged from registration list Ivanka Trump gives deposition in lawsuit alleging misuse of inauguration funds MORE for playing up concerns around mail-in voting. 

“The evidence shows Americans are more likely to get struck by lightning than to conduct voter fraud by mail,” Clyburn said. “There is good reason the president has been unable to provide evidence to support his claim: There is none. Mail-in voting is safe and secure."

Subcommittee ranking member Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseTop Republicans praise Trump's Flynn pardon Richmond says GOP 'reluctant to stand up and tell the emperor he wears no clothes' New RSC chairman sees 'Trumpism' as future MORE (R-La.) pushed back against the concerns of committee Democrats, urging Americans to vote in-person and raising concerns that mail-in voting could lead to an increase in voter fraud. 

“We don’t want a recipe for disaster where we literally would be counting ballots weeks and weeks later,” Scalise said. “In the end, why don’t we put our focus on helping those states conduct fair, efficient and safe elections for all Americans who are legally able to vote?”

Congress has taken steps over the past year to provide states with funding for elections, with $400 million included in the CARES Act stimulus package in March to help address COVID-19 concerns, which was on top of over $800 million appropriated by Congress for election security since 2018. 

Actress and activist Kerry Washington testified during the subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, pushing Congress to appropriate more election funds in the face of poll worker shortages and as state officials repeatedly beg for more funding

She urged members to “make their voices louder than the voices of leaders who disparage voting by mail while voting by mail themselves,” likely referring to Trump’s decision to vote absentee during the Florida primary elections. 

Washington also urged Americans to show up at the polls and make their voices heard in November. 

“We also need to do our part. We cannot sit this one out. Please make a plan, do not wait until November. Your vote matters, you matter,” Washington said.