Democrats and Republicans have yet to formally reveal their priorities for the phase 4 pandemic relief legislation, but there have been hints about infrastructure from the right and funding for vote-by-mail from the left.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said infrastructure will need to wait as funding for things like vote-by-mail is more pressing.
Democrats say vote-by-mail will allow more people to actively participate in the democratic process, but those against say it leads to fraud and weakens the integrity of the voting system.
This issue has already played out in the Wisconsin primary legal battle. The judgment in that case did not allow a change to vote-by-mail or change to the date of the state’s primary.
Democrats argue that during the pandemic, voters risk getting infected at polling places, which would likely lead to low voter turnout. Republicans say that precautions can be taken to lessen the risk and that it is imperative to keep the integrity of the election system intact even during emergencies.
In the $2 trillion, phase 3 coronavirus relief package, congress allocated $400 million for election safety measures, which could include vote-by-mail initiatives.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi revealed that Democrats wanted much more money for a national vote-by-mail system in the initial version of the phase 3 bill, but Republicans did not agree with the huge amount because of concerns over election security and the federal government overstepping state election laws.
Speaker Pelosi has made it clear that she wants more funding for universal vote-by-mail in the phase 4 legislation, but said Thursday that it would have to be done in a bipartisan manner.
“We had $400 million to promote voting by mail, direct mail, all of that. However, it was not nearly enough, we need at least five times that much in order to really meet the needs to protect the integrity of our election critical infrastructure, as well as to promote voting by mail. It is absolutely essential,” Pelosi said on the Colbert Show.
“It just makes us more democratic. It just gives more people the opportunity to vote. So that is something we would like to see,” Pelosi said.
“The $400 million is enough for the current election cycle but not enough for future,” Hans Anatol von Spakovsky, an American attorney and a former member of the Federal Election Commission told The Epoch Times. “The Democrats are seeking to change the election system for good, not only for this election cycle.”
There are many key Democrats pushing to make changes to elections who are introducing legislation to get additional funding for initiatives like vote-by-mail.
Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), has introduced legislation that would give states resources to bolster voting by mail. It is estimated to include $1 billion to increase safety and efficiency, and strengthen new health guidelines at polling locations.
Her fellow former presidential candidate, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), has made vote-by-mail a focus since ending her presidential campaign.
Klobuchar has led a group of Democratic senators to introduce legislation that promotes mail-in and early voting initiatives.
The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act (NDEBA) would ensure voters have 20 days of early voting in all states, require that all mail-in ballots submitted during 21 days leading to an election be counted, and ensure that all voters have the option to request absentee ballots.
A third Democratic senator and former presidential candidate, Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also wrote in a recent op-ed that voters need to have a vote-by-mail option.
Absentee Voting vs Vote-by-Mail
The terms absentee voting and vote-by-mail are sometimes used interchangeably but need to be defined, especially if more states move to universal vote-by-mail.
Absentee voting refers to an eligible voter request (traditionally with an excuse of why they can not be at the polls) by ordinary mail or email. Vote-by-mail is the system whereby all eligible voters are sent ballots without requesting them.
Five states—Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington—vote entirely by mail. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) “at least 21 other states have laws that allow certain smaller elections” to be via mail.
According to the NCSL, possible advantages to vote-by-mail are convenience, voter turnout, and savings. Disadvantages include areas with poor postal service, lack of literacy, security, and slow vote count.
In a Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) report, it states, “Some states refer to absentee voting by its categorical designation as ‘vote-by-mail,’ while others abide by a stricter delineation between absentee and by-mail voting. These policy differences were relevant before COVID-19, but are even more important to consider now.”
The report argues that states without pre-existing infrastructure for the broad implementation of vote-by-mail will not be equipped for an immediate transition to complete vote-by-mail during the pandemic.
BPC review of “federal data on voting by mail and absentee voting found 34 states had fewer than 15 percent of their ballots cast by mail during the 2018 federal election.”
“Facilitating a well-orchestrated vote-by-mail election is the equivalent of a logistical nightmare. And with a global pandemic sweeping the country, this logistical nightmare can only get worse,” the report stated.
Opposition to Vote-by-Mail
During a task force briefing on Tuesday, President Trump said, “Mail ballots are a very dangerous thing for this country because they’re cheaters,” Trump said. “The mailed ballots are corrupt, in my opinion.”
Conservatives argue that mass vote-by-mail will likely lead to voter fraud.
The Heritage Foundation compiled a report about election fraud cases throughout the United States, which highlight some of the gaps that exist in the current voting system.
The report lists some of the voter fraud scenarios related to mail-in ballots, including: voting in the name of voters who have died, moved away, or lost their right to vote; voting under fraudulent voter registrations that use a phony name and a real or fake address; and registering in multiple locations and voting in the same election in more than one jurisdiction or state.
If we are forced to go to universal vote-by-mail, Spakovsky suggests that some key areas be addressed to avoid voter fraud, including updating voter registrations, requiring voter and signature verification, and prohibiting ballot harvesting.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel wrote in a Fox News op-ed. “The overhaul would vastly expand opportunities for fraud and weaken confidence in our elections, but all Washington Democrats see is a potential benefit for their party.”
A 2012 Pew Center research report confirms that voter registration has not kept pace with technological advances and is highly inaccurate.
Some of the key findings of the Pew research are: “Approximately 24 million (one of every eight) voter registrations in the United States are no longer valid or are significantly inaccurate; More than 1.8 million deceased individuals are listed as voters; and Approximately 2.75 million people have registrations in more than one state.”
The report also found that an “estimated 51 million (24 percent)” of the eligible U.S. citizens are not registered to vote.
Implementation of Vote-by-Mail:
A March report from the Brennan Center for Justice titled: “Estimated Costs of COVID-19 Election Resiliency Measures,” put the price tag for voter safety and security during emergencies like the pandemic at 2 billion dollars. This would include voting measures such as universal mail-in voting, ballot drive-by drop off boxes throughout the country, and easier and safer online voter registration.
The 2 billion would go toward ensuring vote-by-mail (including signature verification technology, high-volume mail processing and sorting equipment, and high-speed ballot scanners), maintaining polling locations with new health standards and staffing (including expanding early voting), overhauling online voter registration (including safely storing data), and educating the public about voting options.
The Brennan Center suggests that it will take years for a state to go from an absentee ballot system to vote-by-mail. They also point out that vote-by-mail will not work for areas that lack internet or groups that have language barriers.
“The handful of states that have all-mail elections took many years to get there. As we saw in the Iowa caucus, putting too much strain on an entirely new system is sure to result in breakdowns and failures.”
Spakovsky said elections have traditionally been left to each state to administer and it should remain that way. “Congress should not interfere with states’ election administration process.”