The League joined the effort led by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights urging Congress to include funding for voting rights in the COVID-19 package.
Dear Speaker Pelosi, Minority Leader McCarthy, Majority Leader McConnell, and Minority
The co-chairs of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights’ Voting Rights Task
Force, write to urge Congress to appropriate at least $2 billion and to adopt a number of key
policy measures in the upcoming Coronavirus economic stimulus legislation that would
ensure both the public’s safety and an inclusive and fair voting process for 2020 primary and
general elections. The implementation of comprehensive policies that expand voter
registration, in-person early voting, no-excuse absentee voting by mail, voter education, and
safe in-person voting on Election Day, is critical to assisting states’ preparation for
upcoming elections, given the severe and ongoing threat posed by COVID-19. Today, we
write to urge immediate funding of these policies both through appropriations and
Congress must act now to provide funding and policy mandates so that all states are
sufficiently prepared to administer an election that both protects the American public and
also enables full participation by all eligible citizens, even – and especially – during a time of
national crisis. As outlined in our March 16, 2020 letter, any package addressing election
assistance must require that states adopt a number of practices including the following:
- an extended early in-person voting period (allowing citizens to vote over an expanded period rather than in a cluster on Election Day),
- no-excuse absentee voting-by-mail (including a number of options through which to request and return ballots),
- expanded voter registration options (including online voter registration and same-day voter registration),
- prohibition of polling place adjustments that disproportionately impact vulnerable populations such as people of color, limited-English proficient citizens, and students),
- voter education (informing the public of new practices and immediately quashing disinformation as it arises).
Any legislative package on elections must include these reforms and practices if it is to be maximally effective. Officials must take into consideration accessibility for voters who have historically faced barriers to the ballot including Black, Latino, Asian, and Native American voters; voters with disabilities; and students.
Voting rights experts have now determined – in consultation with state elections officials – that the required changes will necessitate an appropriation of at least $2 billion to the fifty states and territories. Most of that amount would provide states the resources they need to establish an effective vote-by-mail program well in advance of the general election, but funding would also ensure states take measures to safeguard in-person voting and secure voter registration methods. Please refer to the Brennan Center’s Estimated Costs of Election Resiliency Measures for a detailed break-down.
Congress must include this level of funding in its next legislative response to COVID-19. Action to safeguard our elections must be taken, and it must be taken swiftly. As advised by the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team, the very entity prompting White House action in response to COVID-19, “[in] the … US context, [viral] suppression will minimally require a combination of social distancing of the entire population, home isolation of cases and household quarantine of their family members … the major challenge of suppression is that this type of intensive intervention package – or something equivalently effective at reducing transmission – will need to be maintained until a vaccine becomes available (potentially 18 months or more) – given that we predict that transmission will quickly rebound if interventions are relaxed.” By necessity, this means elected officials must provide increased options and funding to allow people to exercise their fundamental right to vote in 2020.
The only way we, as Americans, will curb the spread of this deadly virus and maintain an uncompromised health system is if we act together. And we must act for the collective good, maintaining safe social distancing for many months to come. Our system for conducting elections – the country’s most consequential collective activity – must be adjusted and improved for the sake of our public health and democracy alike. Now is the time for Congress to unite across differences to make sound policy choices that provide funds and voting policy guidelines that ensure equal access and participation. We do not have to, and indeed we must not, choose between public health and a functioning democracy.