Elizabeth Warren calls for election reforms in next coronavirus relief bill

Sen. Elizabeth Warren doesn’t want what happened in Wisconsin’s elections Tuesday to occur in any other state. So she’s calling on Congress to include a slate of voting reforms in the next coronavirus relief bill to ensure Americans can cast a ballot safely during the pandemic.

In a Medium post Tuesday, the Massachusetts senator said the federal government should require all 50 states to offer online registration, at least 30 days of early voting, and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail, among other reforms to ensure that voters aren’t forced to “choose between participating in our democracy and keeping themselves safe.”

“In times of crisis, when people’s lives and livelihoods are on the line, it is more important than ever that elected representatives are held accountable,” Warren wrote. “There is no room for partisanship when it comes to protecting the basic machinery of our democracy.”

Some of the measures have already been implemented in most states; 39 states already offer online registration and two-thirds have no-excuse absentee voting as an option (Warren says Congress should require “robust ballot tracking tools” so that voters can follow mailed ballot at every step, as well as post-election audits).

And while 40 states will offer some form of early voting this year, the average length is 19 days with early voting periods ranging between four and 45 days. Warren says 30 days would help to prevent overcrowding and promote social distancing at polling locations, along with heightened sanitation and longer hours on election days.

The Cambridge Democrat also said the federal government should devote $4 billion in election grants — 10 times the amount in the recent coronavirus relief package — to help ensure local polling places are safely equipped and that poll workers receive hazard pay during the outbreak.

“The task of protecting our democracy has never been more vital,” she said.

Warren published the Medium post as voters cast ballots Tuesday in Wisconsin, the only state in the country to hold its presidential primary (as well as other local elections) as scheduled this month, despite rising cases of COVID-19 nationwide and a statewide order for residents to stay at home except for essential activities. Other states that were scheduled to hold elections in April postponed their elections or moved to mail-in voting. However, after a court order, Wisconsin proceeded with in-person elections Tuesday despite a shortage of poll workers and reduced voting places, which simultaneously resulted in long lines and fears of repressed turnout, not to mention increased public health risks.

“What’s happening in Wisconsin is a disgrace,” Warren tweeted Tuesday night. “During a pandemic we need voters to stay safe, not be silenced.”

Republicans, led by President Donald Trump, have accused Democrats like Warren of pushing the voting reforms in the midst of the outbreak to help their own electoral chances. For example, in a tweet Wednesday morning, Trump said that the GOP should “fight very hard” against mail-in voting, adding that it has the “potential for voter fraud” and “doesn’t work out well for Republicans.”

While voter fraud is more common with mail-in voting (in part because current voter ID laws don’t focus on absentee ballots), experts say it remains extremely rare, counter Trump’s repeated false claims.

Additionally, it’s not clear that mail-in voting benefits Democrats. The most prominent recent case of voter fraud involved a Republican operative collecting absentee ballots in North Carolina. And as NPR reported Wednesday, election experts say such systems tend to be used disproportionately by older voters and white voters, who traditionally skew Republican.

In the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, those Republican-leaning voters potentially stand to benefit even more, given the fact that the elderly are more vulnerable to falling seriously ill due to the virus and are being strongly urged to stay at home under almost all circumstances.

“They might be the ones who might be most likely to vote by mail,” Stanford election law professor Nate Persily told NPR. “So it’s not clear who wins as a result of moving to these types of measures.”

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