More than 30 progressive advocacy groups on Friday published an open letter calling on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to immediately end the upper chamber's recess and pass $3.6 billion in election assistance funding to ensure states have sufficient resources to hold safe and fair elections come November.
"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," reads the letter. "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."
"Mitch McConnell should immediately recall senators from recess to protect our democracy before it's too late."
—Sean Eldridge, Stand Up America
Senators left Washington, D.C. for recess on July 3 and aren't scheduled to return until July 20.
The letter demands that the Senate reconvene and approve the HEROES Act, a House-passed bill that calls for nearly $4 billion in funding to help states expand mail-in voting and prepare safe in-person polling places in time for the November general election.
The HEROES Act would also provide another round of $1,200 per-person stimulus checks to most U.S. households and extend through January of next year the $600 weekly boost in unemployment benefits that's set to expire on July 31.
McConnell has thus far refused to allow the HEROES Act to reach the Senate floor for a vote, dismissing the bill as a "liberal wish list."
As Common Dreams reported last month, rights groups are concerned that if Congress doesn't approve additional election assistance, the same voting issues that plagued primaries in Kentucky, New York, Georgia, Wisconsin, and other states—from long lines to limited polling places to machine malfunctions—could cause problems on a much larger scale in November.
Sean Eldridge, founder and presidnet of Stand Up America, said in a statement Friday that the Senate "must heed the dire warnings of these state and local election officials, and Mitch McConnell should immediately recall senators from recess to protect our democracy before it's too late."
"As Covid-19 cases surge, state and local officials from cash-strapped states are begging Congress for more election funding, but Senate Republicans have blocked nearly every effort to help states safely administer their elections this fall," said Eldridge. "It's hard to see their opposition as anything other than blatant voter suppression in the middle of a pandemic."
Read the full open letter:
To Leader McConnell, Chairman Shelby, and Chairman Blunt:
With less than four months until the November election, time is of the essence for Congress to provide election officials with the resources needed to ensure that no voter is forced to risk putting themselves and their loved ones in hospital beds in order to cast their ballot.
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. 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.
That's why we—the undersigned organizations on behalf of the millions of Americans we represent—demand that Senate leadership immediately end congressional recess and recall senators to the Capitol to swiftly pass legislation to provide election assistance grants to every state.
While Congress appropriated $400 million in federal funds earlier this year, those election assistance grants are grossly insufficient as state and local governments respond to our ongoing health and economic crisis. Now, states urgently need the $3.6 billion in additional federal funds provided by the House of Representatives in the HEROES Act more than seven weeks ago to provide states resources to expand mail-in voting, make polling places safe for in-person voting, and increase online voter registration.
It should be clear to senators of both parties that the cost of ensuring that every eligible voter can safely cast their ballot amid this pandemic is a small price to pay to preserve our democracy—but given your efforts to block this funding over the past two months, it bears repeating that this pandemic continues to threaten the very foundation of our democracy.
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.
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.