WASHINGTON ― Efforts to make it easier for people to vote in the face of the growing coronavirus pandemic got sidelined during congressional negotiations over the massive $2 trillion economic rescue package last month.
Now, a growing number of Democrats are pushing to expand early in-person voting and no-excuse-required absentee voting by mail to all states ahead of the November election, and they want to attach extra funding to make it happen in the next coronavirus relief bill.
“We want the resources to be there and no obstacles to that voting to take place,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Tuesday in an interview with CNN, highlighting the need for hundreds of billions in funding to secure election systems and make it easier for people to vote.
The voting push gained new urgency this week after Wisconsin proceeded with its primary election on Tuesday despite a last-minute order from Gov. Tony Evers (D) seeking a postponement of in-person voting until June. That order was reversed by the state’s high court and the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Long lines were reported across the state on Tuesday as many people risked their health to exercise their right to vote. The usual 180 polling stations in the city of Milwaukee were consolidated to just five, increasing the risk of overcrowded public spaces in the middle of a pandemic.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a longtime advocate of voting by mail, said Tuesday he would fight to include the provision in the next coronavirus bill.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also called on Congress to ban states from purging their voter rolls, require all states to mail ballots with prepaid postage to registered voters, and provide additional funding to shore up the U.S. Postal Sevice and keep poll workers safe.
“Our government needs to act immediately to make sure elections in the United States can proceed safely, securely, and on time — even as this outbreak drags on,” Warren wrote in a post on Medium.
Republicans fiercely oppose mandating states to change their voting systems. They claim that doing so would make voting systems more susceptible to fraud. But some have openly admitted they oppose the changes because they would harm their party at the ballot box.
“You’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” President Donald Trump warned last month after House Democrats called for the measures in a bill last month.
Democrats’ new push on voting rights sets up a high-stakes fight in Congress as lawmakers consider additional economic relief due to the coronavirus. During a press call on Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called voting reforms a “very high priority” for Democrats in the coming negotiations.
Not every Democrat is as vocal about expanding absentee and early voting across the country, however.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee-in-waiting, said in an interview that he preferred in-person voting but hoped a vote-by-mail system could be worked out in time for the 2020 election.
“We should be thinking now ahead ― have all the experts, both political parties and academia laying out what it would take to have voting by mail. I’d much prefer to have in-person voting, but it depends,” Biden said on NBC’s “Today Show.”
Biden also deferred to Wisconsin elected officials last week on holding Tuesday’s primary as scheduled, saying it was for “Wisconsin courts and folks to decide.”
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