A group of Senate Democrats and multiple voting rights advocacy groups stepped up efforts on Tuesday to pressure Senate Republicans to support and pass legislation that would provide states with election resources during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), along with five other Senate Democrats, came to the Senate floor in an attempt to pass the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act that would expand mail-in and early voting.
“If we are defending our elections, then we must protect our democracy, and if our elections are not safe, then our democracy is not secure,” Klobuchar said of election efforts during the pandemic.
The bill was blocked by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who said he was worried the bill could be part of a “federal takeover of elections,” while noting that he may support sending states funding to boost election preparations during the pandemic.
This was the second time in less than a week that Klobuchar brought the bill to the Senate floor for a vote and was blocked by Blunt. The two senators lead the Senate Rules Committee, with Blunt saying the committee would hold an elections-focused hearing sometime next month that would include local and state officials as witnesses.
While the Senate has not passed legislation around mail-in voting, it did include $400 million to boost elections in the coronavirus stimulus bill signed into law by President Trump in March. Experts and congressional Democrats have said states need at least $3.6 billion more to contend with challenges posed by the coronavirus outbreak.
Klobuchar was joined by Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.), Chris Coons (Del.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Mark Warner (Va.) in pushing for passage of the bill.
“No one should have to risk their life to cast their vote, that is why it is so important to have safe opportunities to allow Americans to fulfill their right and vote in November,” Durbin said on the Senate floor while discussing the legislation.
Wyden, a co-sponsor of the bill, pointed to concerns that without mail-in voting many Americans would be disenfranchised through chaos at the polls, pointing to examples during the Georgia and Wisconsin primary elections this year.
“There is no Plan B here, colleagues, the choice is to take advantage of our options so citizens can vote safely or huge numbers of Americans won’t be able to vote at all,” Wyden said.
The senators’ push for mail-in voting resources came the same day a coalition of voting rights groups put out a statement pressuring the Senate to vote on the House-passed HEROES Act, which includes $3.6 billion to assist states with holding elections during the pandemic.
The groups led by Stand Up America criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for not bringing up the HEROES Act for a vote. McConnell has previously described the overall bill as a “liberal wish list," and has also expressed concerns about election security legislation taking election jurisdiction away from states.
“For over five weeks, the Senate has failed to take up a bill that would give states the resources to expand in-person and no-excuse absentee voting, extend early voting, keep polling places open, train poll workers, and implement other reforms to keep voters safe,” the groups said.
“No American should have to risk their health to cast their ballot—but Mitch McConnell’s continued inaction will ensure that voters across the country are forced to make that choice this November.”
They emphasized that “Democrats and Republican should be outraged by this abdication of responsibility and should force McConnell to take immediate action.”
The voting rights advocacy groups also included Common Cause, Fair Fight Action, Indivisible, Let America Vote / End Citizens United Action Fund, MoveOn, Public Citizen, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Stand Up America Founder and President Sean Eldridge told The Hill that while he was “encouraged” by the efforts of many individuals states to move towards increased mail-in voting, “time and resources are running out.”
“Policymakers should be doing everything they can to ensure voters can cast their ballots by mail rather than risk putting their loved ones in hospital beds,” Eldridge said.