Warren warns coronavirus ‘poses a threat to free and fair elections’

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Monday warned that the COVID-19 pandemic poses a threat to “free and fair elections,” as experts cautioned that states are running out of time to prepare to hold elections during the crisis. 

“Coronavirus poses a threat to free and fair elections. But we can fix that,” Warren tweeted. “We need vote by mail. We need online and same-day registration. We need early voting and extended voting hours. We need real money for governments to administer elections safely.”

Warren voiced her concerns in response to a New York Times Magazine report that explored the question of whether Americans could be disenfranchised by the pandemic. The article highlighted the recent Wisconsin primary election, when residents were forced to vote in-person. Dozens of coronavirus cases tied to election day have been reported in the weeks since. 

Warren released a plan on the day of the Wisconsin primary on how to secure voting during COVID-19, advocating for states to send an absentee ballot to every eligible American voter, and that Congress give $4 billion to states for elections. 

“The task of protecting our democracy has never been more vital,” Warren wrote in the plan. “Congress must act to protect our upcoming elections, keep voters and poll workers safe, and safeguard our electoral institutions for the long haul.”

The question of how to safely and securely hold elections during the COVID-19 crisis has become heated in recent weeks, as Democrats and voting rights groups have pushed hard for Congress to allocate funding for mail-in voting in future stimulus packages. 

Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Christopher Coons (Del.) have led the fight for funding in the Senate, with other supporters including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and former first lady Michelle Obama. 

Congress already appropriated $400 million in election funds as part of the $2 trillion stimulus package signed into law in March. The funds came with a clause that required a 20 percent state match, an issue states on the verge of bankruptcy have objected to. A bill introduced by Rep. Joseph Neguse (D-Colo.) on Monday would waive the matching funds requirement. 

While Republican state officials support receiving more election funds, Republican leaders including President Trump have railed against mail-in voting, citing concerns that it would increase voting fraud and hurt Republican election chances.

But experts have cautioned that not expanding mail-in and early in-person voting could seriously impact the ability for primary and general elections to move forward this year. 

New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice warned in a report released Monday that if election officials fail to meet deadlines for equipment and supplies between May and August, the November elections could be put in danger and some Americans could lose the ability to vote. 

“State and local election officials must begin making purchases in a matter of weeks in order to ensure free, fair, and safe elections this fall,” the authors wrote in the report. 

The report found that states need to begin modernizing and updating voter registration systems before the end of the month to meet the expected surge in registration requests. High speed scanners to read and tabulate ballots must be purchased this month for delivery by October, and online absentee ballot request systems must be updated by August at the latest. 

“The expenses involved in preparing for this November’s election are hitting election officials around the country now. Congress must fund this need immediately,” Edgardo Cortés, one of the report’s authors and an election security adviser to the Brennan Center, said in a statement.  “Our election officials don’t have time to wait, and our democracy doesn’t either.”

The Brennan Center previously called for $4 billion to be made available to states to secure elections during the COVID-19 crisis, the amount that Democrats on Capitol Hill are also pushing for.

Tags Amy Klobuchar Chris Coons Christopher Coons Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Joe Neguse Michelle Obama Nancy Pelosi Ron Wyden

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