By Ion Y.
Deadline: Now –
The problem: The 2020 elections are now six months away. Dr. Anthony Fauci says it’s “in the realm of possibility” for us to have a vaccine by January – cross your fingers, we’ll have a new president then! – but nobody you can trust says we’ll have one by Election Day. So among all the other safety issues with COVID-19, we’ve got big problems with having safe elections in November.
Voting at home and mailing or dropping off ballots can solve these problems, but the infrastructure changes we need to make it work nationwide are huge, and they don’t come cheap. Without funding for elections, many Americans will be forced to make a terrible choice: risk contracting COVID-19 or don’t vote. We must act NOW to fund voting at home and make sure there’s oversight of that funding. Our right to vote and have a fair election in the fall depends on it.
What you can do:
Take action, and tell all your friends all over the country to take action. Remember: our elections are nationwide, and although every state makes its own elections laws, this must be a national effort to work!
1. Call your Members of Congress:
Congress is now considering the CARES 2 legislation, the next big coronavirus era stimulus package. This is the bill where election funding must be paid for to be available in time.
What to say:
My name is _____, my zip code is ____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I want Congress to authorize $4 billion dollars for all Americans to be able to vote at home in the November election. And the money needs to come with public oversight to make sure it gets spent properly. Do not allow CARES 2 to pass without this funding. It’s un-American to force us to choose between our health and the right to vote.
- Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
- Senator Kamala Harris (email); (415) 981-9369 • DC: (202) 224-3553
- Representative Mark DeSaulnier (email); (510) 620-1000 • DC: (202) 225-2095
- Representative Barbara Lee (email); (510) 763-0370 • DC: (202) 225-2661:
- Representative Eric Swalwell (email); (510) 370-3322 • DC: (202) 225-5065
Don’t live in California? Call the Senate switchboard and ask to be connected to your Senator: (202) 224-3121
2. Write a letter:
- It’s time to ensure #VirusFreeVoting: join this letter writing campaign emphasizing that voters shouldn’t be forced to choose between their health and their vote. Sponsored by DemCast and Virus Free Voting.
- Election Funding with No Oversight will be Disastrous: join this letter writing campaign asking for strong oversight over how election money is spent. Sponsored by SMART Elections.
The 2020 Wisconsin primary was the test case – and it failed. Wisconsin election officials put in a lot of hard work, but their system was overwhelmed by requests for absentee ballots – the highest in their history, five to ten times higher than any recent election. The primary made headlines: only five of 180 polling places open in Milwaukee, long lines, thousands of voters disenfranchised from missing or uncounted ballots. It isn’t yet clear if there was an increase in COVID infection rates.
Wisconsin’s past could be our future all over the country as election officials try to prepare for an election that may be impossible to hold in person. The good news is, we’re not stuck with a choice between the devil of not voting and the deep blue sea of getting sick. All states have some ways for people to vote at home, including voting by mail and other methods. Voting at home, using a ballot sent to each voter, isn’t a cure-all, but it can make it possible to vote safely in times like these. It could also potentially improve elections in years to come. And there are ways for all states to move much closer to putting it in place by November.
The bad news: this will need a tremendous amount of work to get elections ready in a pandemic. Election officials everywhere face major changes affecting every part of the electoral process, from making sure they have correct addresses to send voters their ballots, to safe ways to return ballots, to getting enough poll workers (since poll workers are typically older and at high risk for COVID).
Several current bills and plans would make voting at home possible. A bill by Senators Amy Klobuchar and Ron Wyden is getting the most support and is furthest along; Senator Kamala Harris also has a bill, and Senator Elizabeth Warren has a plan describing requirements for working elections. But none of it can happen without federal money, which is where WE come in.
Simply, there isn’t nearly enough federal funding for elections. Current funding comes from HAVA (Help America Vote Act of 2003). In 2019, funding was $425 million, but states need almost ten times that much to carry out elections in a pandemic, at least $4 billion. At the best of times states don’t have that kind of money, and these aren’t the best of times: with the economy stalled out, state tax revenue is dropping and states are desperate for federal funding. Even worse, HAVA has no restrictions or oversight on how states spend the funding – so a lot of it doesn’t even get spent for its intended purpose. And no existing election law takes into account the particular needs of voting safely and securely during a pandemic.
The recent CARES Act authorized $2 trillion in federal aid – but there was nothing in the bill for election funding. Federal funding for national defense is hundreds of times larger than $4 billion. The federal government has the money, and it’s the only place that does. It must act to fund elections nationally.
So, why isn’t it? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican Senate leadership insist we don’t need federal money for national elections. McConnell – who thinks all elections should be handled by the states – has historically not supported the states in handling them. He’s even said that letting state and local governments go bankrupt during an election year would be better than having the federal government support them.
Yet states are begging for funding, including for elections, and despite what McConnell says this isn’t partisan. A large majority of Americans see an election during a pandemic as a problem that needs solving. Most people support voting by mail – including most Republican voters and even many Republican state leaders. There’s major, bipartisan support among local election officials – the people who have to actually run elections.
Voting at home is popular, and it can help make elections in 2020 happen safely, if it can only pass the hurdle of Congress. We all need to step up to make this happen. We must call for election funding with oversight, no matter what our party affiliation, our politics, or where we live. If we can’t vote for our represented officials, our country won’t function.