WASHINGTON—Nestled among the 12 titles and 880 pages of the $2.2 trillion “Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act of 2020,” approved unanimously by the Senate late March 25, is a paragraph sending $400 million to state governments “to help prepare for the 2020 election.”
The provision’s senatorial proponents promise it will enable state election officials to increase the ability of citizens nationwide “to vote by mail, 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 prepared by Democratic staff members of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
It accounts for a mere 0.018 percent of the overall measure’s $2.2 trillion in federal expenditures, but the provision is “a rare victory” gained by “an unusually intense and coordinated lobbying campaign by some of the major players in the democracy reform movement,” according to its chief media voice, The Fulcrum.
The Fulcrum is published by Issue One, a Washington-based nonprofit advocacy group that grew out of the drive for public funding of congressional campaigns and growing fears among liberal activists that corrupt “dark money is flooding our elections.”
Officially, the $400 million was included due to worries that the CCP virus would mar the November election as millions of Americans wouldn’t vote for fear of being exposed to the deadly disease.
But, as The Fulcrum story and the Democratic summary make clear, much more than health concerns were at work behind the scenes as Congress wrestled in recent weeks with three major coronavirus response measures.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) were the chief advocates on the Senate side. In a March 16 Washington Post op-ed, the duo wrote:
“The best way to ensure that this virus doesn’t keep people from the ballot box is to bring the ballot box to them. We must allow every American the ability to vote by mail.
“And we must expand early voting so that voters who are not able to vote by mail are not exposed to the elevated infection risks of long lines and crowded polling locations.”
On the House side, a more aggressive package of like-minded election reforms was included by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in her Democratic alternative to the measure approved by the Senate.
Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) described Pelosi’s proposals as “nothing but a dangerous ploy to federalize elections,” especially a “ballot harvesting” provision allowing “political operatives in every state … to come to a voter’s house to pick up their ballot and deliver it to the polling location.”
Pelosi’s other proposals mandated polling places be within walking distance of public transportation, barred election officials from requiring identification from voters seeking absentee ballots, permitted high school students to be poll watchers, and allowed ballots to be cast from any location.
Catherine Englebrecht, president of Houston-based anti-voting-fraud group True the Vote, told The Epoch Times such reforms “take a blowtorch to election integrity,” adding that she had “held out hope that we wouldn’t see these kinds of exploitive tactics right now. But no. Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
Pelosi’s alternative bill stalled, however, and, according to The Fulcrum, “the groups mounting the most aggressive lobbying campaigns—including Common Cause, the Brennan Center for Justice, Unite America, the National Vote at Home Institute and Issue One—soon realized that new federal mandates were a lost cause and focused instead on delivering money to the states.”
Meredith McGehee, Issue One’s executive director, told The Epoch Times on March 26 that “the whole point here is not to be too prescriptive at the federal level,” adding that “if the effort is perceived as being too prescriptive, it will never get past the Senate, whether or not the Republicans are currently in control or down at 47.”
McGehee described Pelosi’s proposals as “the marker bill that the Democrats needed to do,” but “there was always during the past two weeks a discussion on what do we need to do now just to focus first on making sure there are safe and secure elections at the same time these other issues were floating around.”
Those “other issues” will likely stick around because, according to Democratic reformers, another $1.6 billion will be needed in coming months to ensure a safe and healthy November election.
Davis told The Epoch Times on March 26 that the $400 million in the Senate coronavirus bill “is not the top-down nationalized approach the Democrats and Nancy Pelosi wanted in their bill and they tried to push on numerous occasions.”
The Illinois Republican said the Senate bill “means our local election officials are going to get more money to open more polling stations, buy hand sanitizer and put in new hygiene methods, stuff that many rural election officials can’t do now.”
Davis said he is “surprised some of these groups that want to take over and nationalize our elections” aren’t viewing the $2 billion estimate of needed election funds as “a down payment.”
Contact Mark Tapscott at Mark.Tapscott@epochtimes.nyc.