Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is setting records for bill-packing, stuffing the Democrats’ coronavirus relief package with everything from a handout to the Kennedy Center to a bailout for the United States Postal Service, but one demand, buried in a “voting” section of the bill is drawing particular scrutiny: a demand that the November presidential election be a “mail-in” election.
According to Fast Company, the Pelosi bill includes language designed to fund a vote-by-mail campaign, giving individuals a specified amount of time to fill out and mail in a ballot to their state.
““[The package] ensures that states can carry out this year’s election with billions in grant funding for states through the Election Assistance Commission and a national requirement for both 15 days of early voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail, including mailing a ballot to all registered voters in an emergency,” Pelosi’s office said in a statement issued to media Monday.
Democrats are clearly concerned that the coronavirus pandemic, which has, so far, stalled the primary process, may have an impact on the November presidential election, leaving President Donald Trump in charge for longer than they’d prefer. In fact, Monday’s “mail-in” ballot proposal is only the latest in a string of efforts by Congressional Democrats to establish a nationwide vote-by-mail program.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) rolled out a plan for mail-in voting back on March 18, well before major efforts to lock down cities and states in response to the spread of coronavirus began in earnest.
The legislation, TIME Magazine reports, requires, “among other things, 20 days of early in-person voting, as well as no-excuse vote-by-mail options in every state. The federal government would reimburse states for the costs of putting the measures in place, though the bill doesn’t specify an amount and the tab could be high.”
If Pelosi’s proposal is any indication, a vote-by-mail program could end up costing taxpayers $15 million just to start — and that’s if states are able to move quickly enough to address the change in balloting procedure.
“[S]tates would still quickly have to make a series of decisions governing how such ballots would make their way into voters’ hands and be returned, handled and counted securely; the deadline to return ballots to be counted; as well as how to verify them and give voters the chance to address problems — questions different states answer in different ways,” TIME notes.
Of course, Democrats say the only reason Republicans are opposed to the bill is because they use the methods of in-person voting to suppress votes, not because of the overwhelming cost or the potential for vote manipulation.
“I see no evidence that Majority Leader McConnell has weakened his opposition,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) said Monday on a phone call about mail-in voting provisions. “To be really blunt, that’s partly because voter suppression efforts in a number of states around the country include things like changing the hours, changing the location of polling precincts—and vote-by-mail is a way to work around that or to weaken that as a voter suppression tool.”
The Pelosi bill may not make it to a vote; as of last night, Republicans, the White House, and Senate Democratic leaders were still negotiating on a Senate coronavirus relief bill and, by all accounts, were making “progress.”