Why we need to secure $4B for election security
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended almost every aspect of American life, from our schools and businesses to our most basic democratic right – voting. As the November election rapidly approaches without Congressional action to ensure a safe, free and fair election, so does the threat of a botched, chaotic and undemocratic process in November that would betray our nation’s ideals and undermine our democratic system.
If we want our democracy to weather this storm, Congress must act now through the pending economic stimulus bill to secure $4 billion in additional funding for election security and adopt a number of key election policy measures. This essential funding will help states manage the expected increase in volume of last minute absentee ballot applications, shortages of poll workers and the added challenges of procuring and distributing supplies during the pandemic.
In leadership roles at Sojourners and the National African-American Clergy Network, two of us have partnered to equip and mobilize religious communities across the country to ensure a free, fair and safe election. Voting is a sacred right and commitment, particularly given our nation’s long struggle to extend the right to vote to every citizen regardless of factors such as race and gender. Inclusive and fair voting processes should be non-negotiable in every election, but in a time of rapid social upheaval, it’s more important than ever.
At the Patriotic Millionaires, one of us – a wealthy investor who has benefited immensely from the stability, security and fairness that our democratic processes ensure – has helped make both the moral and business case for ensuring fair and inclusive elections. People invest and do business in America precisely because our democratic institutions are strong, safe and accountable. An election that undermines those values would undermine our country’s reputation as an optimal place for business, and our economic recovery from this catastrophe would be dragged out for long, difficult years to come.
Right now, Congressional leaders and the White House are still in tense negotiations for a fourth round of Coronavirus stimulus spending, and the prospects for a deal seem murky. But the nation can’t afford for election security to get lost amid political squabbling, and our leaders need to take that to heart.
States and local governments, the entities who bear the most responsibility for administering our elections, are rapidly running out of money and resources. Experts estimate that $4 billion is the bare minimum needed to ensure that each state has the ability to adapt their electoral systems to be COVID-safe, and any delay will risk losing valuable months to implement the necessary changes. That means critical changes could be less effective, and in some places, impossible to put in place in time for November. The US Postal Service desperately needs both additional resources and sound leadership to ensure it can effectively handle the surge in mail in ballots. Both Democrats and Republicans must unequivocally reject dangerous and unsubstantiated myths being promulgated by President Trump and others about vote by mail and fraud.
In addition to proper funding, Congress must enact measures to expand voting options as much as they possibly can to reduce the risk of COVID transmission on Election Day. In addition to making the safest option – mail in ballots – universally available, we recognize that there will still be a critical need for safe, expanded in-person voting. Measures that Congress can take to secure this include expanding voter registration, allowing in-person early voting, voter education initiatives, and securing safe in-person voting on Election Day. The $4 billion in funding can and should be used to pay for a surge of young poll workers to help prevent long lines seen in recent primary elections in Wisconsin and Georgia, and to take the pressure off the at-risk elderly population that disproportionately serves in these roles.
No citizen should have to choose between their health and the exercise of their democratic right to vote. Providing the necessary resources, leadership and policies to enable every eligible citizen to exercise their fundamental right to vote must be both a bipartisan priority and nonpartisan imperative. Our very democracy depends on it.
Rev. Adam Taylor is Sojourners president-elect and acting president. Barbara Williams-Skinner is public policy strategist and faith leader at Sojourners. Morris Pearl is chair of the Patriotic Millionaires and former managing director at BlackRock.