TAMPA FLORIDA MARCH 17: Voting stations are seen empty during Florida’s primary election at the … [+]
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Topline: The Senate passed the largest stimulus bill in its history late Wednesday in response to the coronavirus crisis, including $400 million in election assistance for states, but some experts wonder whether that will be enough to support initiatives such as support mail-in and early voting.
- States are scrambling to spend an unprecedented amount of money on mail-in ballot voting in upcoming presidential primaries, and are poised to shell out even more money for the general election if the pandemic continues to keep people indoors come November.
- Georgia, West Virginia and Ohio are planning to spend “millions” to send absentee ballots to voters for their upcoming presidential primaries, according to the Washington Post.
- The stimulus bill passed by the Senate Wednesday includes $400 million to support mail-in voting, expand early voting and online registration, and “increase the safety of voting in-person by providing additional voting facilities and more poll workers,” according to a summary of the bill first reported by Slate.
- U.C. Irvine election law professor Rick Hasen, author of new book “Election Meltdown,” said $400 million will not cover the costs associated with elections this year: “$400 million is too low — there’s going to be increased costs associated with the November election resulting including more employees and scanners for mail-in voting in all states; The Brennan Center for Justice estimated states would need $2 billion to adequately prepare for elections this year during a pandemic.
- Initially, some Republicans in Congress were against putting support for mail in voting into the most recent coronavirus stimulus bill, arguing Democrats were attempting to pack the bill with unrelated legislative priorities.
- House Democrats asked for up to $4 billion in emergency funding in the stimulus bill for election assistance, while Senate Republicans proposed just $140 million.
Crucial quote: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told NBC News that even though Democrats didn’t get what they wanted for election, they didn’t want to “hold up” the bill and would revisit it another day.
Democrats also pushed for additional election measures to be included in the stimulus bill such as requiring states to permit up to 15 days for early voting.
Chief critic: Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, tweeted Monday that early voting does “nothing” to help workers and small businesses “survive the coronavirus crisis.”
Further reading: Jessica Huseman of Propublica reports that mail-in voting would “reduce coronavirus transmissions” but have other “risks.”
“While mail-in ballots seem like an elegant solution as the United States grapples with containing COVID-19, experts say slow-moving state and county governments, inconsistent state rules and limited resources to buy essentials such as envelopes and scanners could make it difficult to ramp up nationally to reach more than 200 million registered voters in the November general election,” writes Huseman.
“Among the possible downsides of a quick transition are increased voter fraud, logistical snafus and reduced turnout among voters who move frequently or lack a mailing address.”
Key Background: Ten states and one territory have postponed their presidential primaries because of the coronavirus, including: Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Ohio, Puerto Rico, Delaware and Rhode Island.
What we don’t know: Congress could pass separate legislation to support mail in voting for this election year. Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., introduced legislation earlier this month that would support mail in ballot initiatives.
On Wednesday, the senators released a joint statement calling the election assistance included in the stimulus bill a “step in the right direction” but not enough to ensure “safe and secure elections.”