WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congress must provide more federal funding to ensure a safe and successful election this fall, according to two election experts who testified this week.
“With the election less than three months away, we need Congress to act now,” Sylvia Albert, the director of voting and elections at Common Cause, a nationwide network of activists whose mission is to strengthen democracy, told the House Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Innovation.
The Cares Act, which was signed into law in March, provided $400 million to states to administer elections. But Albert told lawmakers that wasn’t going to cut it.
“It is going to take significantly more resources for states to run effective elections in the COVID-19 environment,” she said. “… One study estimates this cost to be $4 billion.”
The witness was referring to a study conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute at New York University Law School.
Albert explained a host of problems occurred during the recent primary season. She said some states lacked the resources to process increased requests for absentee ballots in a timely manner, meaning many voters received their ballots too late to vote by mail. Other states rejected thousands of ballots because voters missed a line on the form or because officials could not verify signatures.
Voters who went to the polls also faced challenges. The director said the coronavirus led to a shortage of poll workers and the consolidation of polling stations, which resulted in confusion and long lines. Albert advised the legislators to help local governments recruit more poll workers and find new polling locations with enough space for voters to social distance.
David Levine, the elections integrity fellow for the Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD), shared similar sentiments with the representatives. ASD is a transatlantic initiative that develops strategies to defend against authoritarian efforts to undermine democratic institutions.
“Offering robust voting by mail, early voting and Election Day options to minimize confusion and risk are optimal, but many jurisdictions don’t currently have the resources and personnel to offer all of these approaches,” he said. “Additional resources from federal authorities would help enormously with administering and securing the election.”
Levine urged election officials to continuously check their election infrastructure for weaknesses. He said an advisor with the Department of Homeland Security recently warned state officials testing had revealed various vulnerabilities in local and state election systems, such as passwords that were commonly known to outsiders or phishing scams that allowed hackers to install malware.
“The good news is that many of these issues can be easily fixed by Election Day,” Levine said. “The bad news is that many local election offices are unable to make these fixes quickly because they lack the necessary resources or IT support.”
He added the election must run smoothly to prevent conspiracy theories from flourishing. Credible election information must be readily available to the public, he said, so people don’t accept misinformation in its absence.
Subcommittee Chairman Cedric Richmond explained the House already passed the Heroes Act, which would provide $3.6 billion to help states with the November elections. But he said the republican-held Senate never voted on the bill.
The Louisiana Democrat urged senators to honor the recently deceased Congressman John Lewis by ensuring all Americans would be able to safely vote this November.
“Congressman Lewis reminded us that the vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it,” Richmond said. “We must vigorously defend our right to vote, our access to the ballot box and the integrity of our elections.”
In Santa Clara County, election officials are feeling confident about the November election. Evelyn Mendez, the public and legislative affairs manager for the Registrar of Voters, said Santa Clara already is a vote-by-mail county.
“It isn’t a new process for us,” she said. “… But it would be worrisome for counties that haven’t done it.”
Mendez said the county is still in the process of recruiting poll workers. There’s been a good turn-out so far, she said, but some residents are also hesitant due to the coronavirus.
As for federal funding, Mendez said any additional support could always be put to good use.
“I think all election officials would say yes to more funding,” she said.
Contact Katie King at [email protected] or follow @KatieKingCST on Twitter.