Congress Moves Closer to Alternatives for Safe Voting During Nov. 3 Election

August 31, 2020 by Tom Ramstack
In this July 14, 2020, photo, election worker Adonlie DeRoche, seated, wears a mask and face shield behind Plexiglas for safety during the coronavirus pandemic, while handing a ballot and single-use pen to a voter during the primary election in Portland, Maine. (AP Photo/David Sharp, File)

WASHINGTON — Congress and the courts are closing in on strategies to secure the nation’s vote in November without sacrificing the health of voters confronting risks of coronavirus.

Much of the discussion focuses on benefits and perils of absentee voting during the Nov. 3 federal election.

Republicans generally disfavor absentee voting, saying it could be manipulated by fraudsters or interrupted by Postal Service delays.

Most Democrats say absentee voting would help protect voters from disease.

Alternatives discussed during two congressional hearings Friday include wider use of voting by mail, ballot drop boxes and social distancing at polling places.

The social distancing could force polling places into stadiums or large auditoriums.

Voters also would be required to wear masks under the proposals discussed at hearings of the House Administration Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee.

“Voters should not be forced to choose between their health and their fundamental right to vote,” Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told the House Administration Committee.

Proposals in Congress for managing the health and voter integrity risks include a second round economic stimulus bill, called the HEROES Act, that would spend $3.6 billion for states to expand voting by mail.

A second bill, called the Delivering for America Act, would give the U.S. Postal Service $25 billion to shore up its finances and ensure it is prepared for what Congress is predicting could be 160 million mail-in votes.

Supporters of the Delivering for America Act include Homeland Security Committee Chairman U.S. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss.

Referring to recent U.S. Postal Service claims it started a new efficiency campaign this summer, Thompson said, “The Postmaster General implemented sweeping operational changes, and the Postal Service’s own internal documents confirm these changes have slowed mail service across the country this summer. These changes could slow the delivery of ballots during this fall’s election—just as millions of Americans are choosing to vote by mail for the first time to avoid possible exposure to COVID-19.”

The Democrat-controlled House passed the Postal Service supplement last week. It is awaiting action in the Republican-dominated Senate, where it is not expected to win approval.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., a member of the House Administration Committee, cited statistics showing that a half-million mail-in votes during the recent primaries were rejected because of different flaws in them. About 200,000 came from California, he said.

“I’m afraid that the voting by mail proposals backed by Democrats are pushing us backwards,” Davis said. “I want integrity in our election process.”

Several states, including California, Connecticut, Michigan and California, increased absentee voting during their primary elections. Officials from those states who testified to Congress Friday said fraud or lost ballots were a minimal problem.

California placed hundreds of drop boxes at locations easily accessible to voters during its most recent primary election. They can receive the absentee ballots by mail, fill them out then drop them in the secure drop boxes, similar to a public mailbox.

The ballots are collected from the drop boxes by election officials after the polls close.

“Voter fraud is exceedingly, exceedingly rare,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla testified.

Another issue that has arisen during congressional hearings is whether it is realistic to require all voters to wear masks at polling places.

A Supreme Court decision Friday implied mask requirements can be enforced as a prerequisite to voting in person.

The Supreme Court declined to hear a lawsuit challenging the authority of Colorado’s governor to require masks in public, thereby giving authority to a lower court ruling that upheld the requirement.

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