Lawmakers weigh push for more funding for state election preparations during pandemic

Lawmakers weigh push for more funding for state election preparations during pandemic
Voting booths are seen at the Potomac Community Recreation Center during early voting on October 28, 2016 in Potomac, Maryland. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images) (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As states work to navigate the voting process for upcoming elections during a global pandemic, members of Congress are weighing a push by some to give more funding to state election offices.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way voting sites operate.

“Employee temperatures are taken immediately in the morning,” said Rick Stream, the Republican Director of Elections for St. Louis County, Missouri. “Employees socially distance.”

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The CARES Act included $400 million in funding for states to prepare for election needs such as personal protective equipment (PPE) during the crisis.

“These dollars have been instrumental in providing for additional ballot-scanning equipment, larger ballot boxes, absentee envelopes, hand sanitizer, PPE, poll-worker recruitment and public outreach,” said Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett.

But some election officials and civil rights advocates said while the CARES Act funding was a start, Congress should allocate more money.

President and Executive Director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Kristen Clarke pointed to challenges presented during recent primaries in her testimony before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee about why there is a need for additional funding.

“Long lines in Wisconsin and Georgia,” Clarke said. “Poll site closures across Pennsylvania and Kentucky. Confusion regarding the rules for absentee ballots in Ohio. Poll worker shortages in Florida, Texas and Illinois.”

Clarke also called for states to give voters at least two weeks for early voting and not to require an excuse for absentee voting.

“No one should ever have to choose between their health and their ability to exercise their right to vote,” Clarke said.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar said 12 of 16 states allowed no-excuse absentee voting for the primaries because of the pandemic.