As the coronavirus outbreak continues to paralyze public life and the economy as it spreads across the U.S., voting rights advocates are demanding the federal government urgently prioritize funding election assistance for November's general election—citing the fact there is no way to know what the future of the pandemic will bring.
"Election officials are facing unprecedented challenges this year, and they need more resources from Congress to help keep elections safe, accessible, and secure amid the pandemic."
—Lawrence Norden, NYU Brennan Center for Justice
"We're running out of time to get this right," Stand Up America president Sean Eldridge said in a statement Thursday calling on Congress to act. "None of us know how long this pandemic will last, and no American should have to choose between protecting their health and exercising their right to vote."
Stand Up America led a press call Thursday on the importance of funding elections in the next stimulus package, referred to as "Phase 4" in Washington. Lawmakers are on recess and will not return to work on the legislation until later in April, but advocacy groups are already pushing for progressive priorities like vote-by-mail and expanded early voting periods to be included in the package.
Experts say we need $2 billion in funding to expand vote-by-mail to ensure Americans can safely vote. I’m joining @StandUpAmerica’s campaign to demand Congress pass the necessary funding to protect us and our elections. Retweet if you’re with me! pic.twitter.com/6rv5y7k4Cb— Barbara Malmet (@B52Malmet) April 2, 2020
Democrats in the House are reportedly looking to prioritize infrastructure projects and a tax break for wealthier Americans through removal of the SALT deduction cap, as Common Dreams reported on Tuesday.
Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said Thursday that the funding bill must make sure that the country has the opportunity to vote by mail in November.
"Congress must approve at least $1.6 billion in additional funding for safe and fair elections," said Gupta. "That funding is needed to help states to prepare for November and provide voters with a range of options for casting ballots, including in-person early voting, no-excuse absentee voting by mail, voter registration opportunities, and safe in-person voting on Election Day."
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The coronavirus, or COVID-19, presents a unique difficulty to election workers, as NYU law's Brennan Center for Justice Election Reform Program director Lawrence Norden explained, making assistance a prerogative for lawmakers.
"Election officials are facing unprecedented challenges this year, and they need more resources from Congress to help keep elections safe, accessible, and secure amid the pandemic," said Norden. "Additional funding is needed now so that jurisdictions around the country have time to make critical adjustments before November."
But election assistance faces an uphill battle, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday in an interview with right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt on the next steps in stimulus legislation.
"I'm not going to allow this to be an opportunity for the Democrats to achieve unrelated policy items that they would not otherwise be able to pass," said McConnell in remarks that CNBC reported were aimed at election assistance.
Earlier this week, President Donald Trump warned that "you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again," if some of the voting expansions Democrats are calling for were to become law.
Common Cause president Karen Hobert Flynn said in a statement that she hoped lawmakers would do the right thing in spite of their differences.
"This is a time for our leaders to come together to solve this public health crisis and ensure everyone has access to the ballot," said Flynn.