With the COVID-19 pandemic putting significant financial pressure on states nationwide, Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., introduced the Secure Our Elections Act to eliminate a requirement for states to match a portion of Federal funding received for election security.
“It is critical that we are prepared as a nation come November to execute a safe, fair, and accessible electoral process,” said Neguse.
As part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Congress tasked the Election Assistance Commission with distributing $400 million in election assistance funds. Under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020, states are required to match 20 percent of the CARES Act’s Federal election security grants. Neguse’s bill would repeal that requirement given the increased financial pressure that states are facing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Given the unprecedented strain that has been placed on state budgets amidst COVID-19, removing the match requirement under the CARES Act will ensure our state and local governments do not have to make hard decisions about equipping their communities with needed emergency resources or preparing for the 2020 elections,” Neguse said.
The $400 million in funding is from new Help America Vote Act (HAVA) emergency funds, which are made available to states to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus for the 2020 Federal election cycle. The funding can be used to – among other things – expand vote-by-mail, in-person voting, and early voting options, as well as provide online resources to voters ahead of the election.
“We simply cannot make states choose between providing critical services during this pandemic or safeguarding our democracy,” Neguse said.
The bill received praise from local election officials in Neguse’s home state.
“As states grapple with the economic fallout of the coronavirus, requiring them to match a portion of election assistance funding received through the CARES Act not only creates yet another financial burden for states but also threatens our democracy,” said Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold.
Molly Fitzpatrick, Boulder County clerk, agreed, saying “Many local governments are facing tough budget decisions as a result of COVID-19. It is absolutely critical that every jurisdiction and every state is equipped to administer the upcoming elections in a fair, safe, and accessible way. We are in this together and we need confidence that our electoral process is funded and protected across America.”
While the legislation does not appear to have a Senate companion bill, a bipartisan pair of Senators have called for the match requirement to be removed. In an April 23 letter, Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., urged Congressional leadership to allow the EAC to suspend the 20 percent match requirement if “circumstances related to the pandemic prevent them from providing this match.”
The Senators wrote, “State and local election officials nationwide are working heroically to prepare for the 2020 elections amidst an unprecedented public health crisis. Given the unprecedented strain the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on state budgets, the match requirement could mean that several states are unable to take advantage of new election funding at the very moment it is most needed. In this national crisis, we should not ask states to choose between providing critical services and safeguarding our democracy.”