WASHINGTON – A U.S. senator who has been at the forefront of efforts to deal with the coronavirus epidemic says he is "very worried" that many states across the country will be unable to switch to mail-in voting in time for the November elections. That could potentially complicate the ability of state and local officials to conduct the fall elections if the public is still worried about the coronavirus.
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said in an interview with the Yahoo News podcast “Skullduggery” that his state has some of the strictest laws in the country concerning mail-in voting. “We, unfortunately and unbelievably in Connecticut, don’t have a mail-in system,” Murphy said.
And Connecticut is far from alone. Sixteen other states also require voters to provide a valid excuse for absentee voting. New York, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., also requires voters to have an excuse. The state is scheduled to have its presidential primary on April 28, although officials may move it to June.
There are 28 states that allow voting by mail. And there are five states that conduct their elections entirely by mail: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington.
It’s not possible to implement a change in the rules for the Connecticut primary, which was pushed back from its originally scheduled date of April 28 to June 2, Murphy said. But he also said the state is looking into what’s possible ahead of the Nov. 3 general election.
Murphy’s comments highlight one of the many obstacles to a national vote-by-mail election in the fall.
In addition to the 17 states that impose legal constraints on the practice, there is also the matter of funding.
Congress allocated $400 million in the emergency rescue package that the House was set to vote on Friday, and that money can be used by states to strengthen their ability to hold an election in the fall amidst an ongoing pandemic, if social distancing remains of paramount importance.
Download or subscribe on iTunes: “Skullduggery” from Yahoo News
President Trump’s top health advisers have said this week that Americans should be prepared for a second wave of infections in the fall. “We're dealing with cycle A right now, not the one that could come in the fall of 2020,” Deborah Birx, the response coordinator for the administration’s coronavirus task force, said at the White House on Wednesday evening.
But in order for all 50 states to be anywhere close to prepared for a vote-by-mail election in the fall, they’ll likely need between $2 billion to $4 billion. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University has released a detailed accounting of the needs and the cost. The report said $2 billion would be a conservative estimate.
House Democrats have proposed a $4 billion package to help states prepare for voting in November’s presidential election amid coronavirus concerns. But another challenge remains: Many Republicans are ideologically averse to expanding absentee voting. They claim it opens the door to abuse and fraud.
In Georgia, however, Republicans control the state government and decided this week to mail every voter in the state an absentee ballot for the May 19 primary there.
Georgia Republicans may be a leading indicator for where the GOP may be going on the issue of mail-in voting. They see it as necessary for elections this year, but are dismissing the idea that this will be a permanent change.
“These steps are critical in this temporary environment to protect our poll workers and give our counties time to successfully plan for the Georgia general primary in May,” state Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller said.
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