$2 Billion Needed For Vote-by-Mail so Voters Don't Have 'Ammunition to Stay Home' Amid Coronavirus, Nancy Pelosi Says

Democrats are pushing for billions of federal dollars to be included in a fourth economic stimulus package for state elections as the coronavirus pandemic is forcing primaries to be postponed and threatens to impact contests in November.

At least $2 billion is needed, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday, money that would be invested in vote-by-mail and election security efforts, such as no-excuse absentee voting, expanding voter registration and more early voting.

"Vote-by-mail is so important to our democracy so that people have access to voting and not being deterred, especially at this time, by the ammunition to stay home," the California Democrat told reporters on a conference call. "We need at least $2 billion, $4 billion is probably what would really democratize our whole system."

In the Phase 3 legislation that was passed last week that totaled $2 trillion, $400 million was allocated for state elections. It's unclear whether Pelosi's push for $2 billion includes the previous funding, which has been characterized by election experts as inadequate.

In addition to funding vote-by-mail and election security provisions, House Democrats are also pushing for more money to the U.S. Postal Service in a Phase 4 package that would be centered primarily on infrastructure projects. Pelosi accused the White House of rejecting their push in the last stimulus to include money for the Postal Service, the government entity that handles ballots cast by mail.

"They're the ones who are delivering so much of what the American people are buying online, and more important than that, they need special protection equipment," she said. "They move around the country."

Nancy Pelosi billions needed vote-by-mail amid coronavirus
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), trailed by reporters, walks to the floor of the House of Representatives in the U.S. Capitol on March 27 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty

It's yet-to-be-determined when Congress will reconvene to address the legislation. April 20 is the earliest possible return date, though it appears that could be pushed back as national social distancing measures have been extended through the month. Still, Pelosi is pushing for the new bill to come faster than her GOP colleagues prefer, who argue the first three stimuluses need time to make an impact.

"My motto is 'resting is rusting,'" she said.

The pandemic has already forced more than a dozen states and U.S. territories—including Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, West Virginia, Wyoming and Puerto Rico—to reschedule their primary contests. Wisconsin, which has instituted a stay-at-home order, has so far refused calls to suspend its primary that's set for Tuesday.

The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that $2 billion is needed to ensure a "free and fair election" amid the pandemic. And more than 150 mostly left-leaning activist organizations, such as Stand Up America, have urged congressional leaders to appropriate the large sum of money.

"None of us know how long this pandemic will last, and no voter should have to choose between protecting their health and exercising their right to vote," Stand Up America Founder and President Sean Eldridge told Newsweek in a statement. "But that's the message lawmakers sent to the American people with the inadequate funding allocated in the last stimulus bill for election preparedness."

Top Democrats who are also pushing for the new money, including House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), argued that in addition to the health benefits of avoiding large crowds at the polls, voting by mail could increase turnout and be less susceptible to foreign interference.

"It can't be hacked by the Russians," said DeFazio.

"We ought to make it as easy as we can make it to cast their vote, to participate in this democracy," Clyburn said. "I think we would be negligent if we did not do what was necessary to allow people to participate freely."

Democrats are almost certain to face some opposition from congressional Republicans for their election efforts. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy charged Democrats with attempting to "force partisan objectives."

"Offsetting the carbon footprint of airplanes, remaking our energy grid, or changing election laws, as Democrats have suggested, have nothing to do with our war against the disease," the California Republican said in a statement.

The office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not respond to a request for comment.

Last year, McConnell backed some $400 million in elections security that was included in appropriations funding for fiscal year 2020. However, he's also batted down several Democratic attempts to pass additional election security measures.

Democrats could again face resistance from the White House. President Donald Trump on Monday suggested that more funding for voting efforts in the third package would have yielded higher turnout and less Republican victories.

"They had things—levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again," he told Fox News on Monday.

Pelosi rejected that notion, saying that when she chaired the California Democratic Party in the 1980s, the "Republicans always prevailed on the absentee ballots."

"When the president says, 'if we have vote-by-mail we'll never elect another Republican,' I think that, first of all, it doesn't recognize that Republicans know how to vote-by-mail, and B: the strength of their argument they may have with the American people about their vision for the future," Pelosi said.

"It just makes us more democratic," she continued. "It just gives more people the opportunity to vote."

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