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A bipartisan push to expand mail-in voting is underway across the country as election officials brace for a spike in demand from voters spooked by the coronavirus pandemic.

House Democrats have asked for as much as $2 billion in emergency funding to distribute to election officials who are trying to expand absentee balloting and take other steps to avoid pandemic-related issues on Election Day in November.

Dozens of state and local election officials, both Republican and Democratic, have signaled their desire for the funding.

Still, Republicans in Washington say they are inclined to oppose an effort to include the funding and new rules on how states run their elections in a $2 trillion coronavirus response package, with some casting the effort as part of a Democratic strategy to try to load up the bill with unrelated pet priorities.

"WHAT DO.... Early voting, windmills, labor bailouts & #GreenNewDeal have to do with helping workers & #SmallBiz survive the coronavirus crisis? Nothing," Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, tweeted Monday.

Voting advocates -- and election officials in both parties -- predict a surge in demand for early and mail-in balloting by voters seeking to protect themselves against the highly infectious coronavirus. Preparing for it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, a cost directly related to the pandemic, they say.

"It's either going to be vote-by-mail or nothing if we have to deal with a worst-case scenario," Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said Monday on a conference call with reporters. Wyden and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who announced her husband's coronavirus diagnosis Monday, have sponsored a Senate bill similar to the provisions that House Democrats are trying to put in the emergency package.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

Some GOP lawmakers have said election-related funding can come later, but advocates said there is little time to waste for officials on the ground.

"They need the money now," said Wendy Weiser, director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. "If we wait a couple of months, it will be too late. They won't be able to use it effectively or make the changes needed to avoid significant chaos on Election Day in November. Time is already tight."

Weiser added that while public health is properly the top concern of government right now, protecting the country's democracy is also necessary.

"This is a significant challenge to our electoral system that's going to be a heavy lift to fix," she said. "The election professionals understand that."

The House Democratic proposal calls for several election measures, including a mandate that all states make mail-in voting available to anyone who wants it, offer a minimum of 15 days of early voting and help to pay for all of it, a cost that the Brennan Center has estimated at up to $2 billion.

Much of that cost would come from printing hundreds of thousands more ballots and envelopes than ever before; paying for postage; and purchasing expensive, high-capacity scanners that can count large numbers of ballots at once. The price of postage alone, according to the Brennan Center, could reach $600 million for local governments.

Some state and local election officials oppose mandating mail-in balloting in November out of concern that their electorates are not used to it and that they don't have time to properly implement such a system. Instead, they are emphasizing making voting by mail an option for anyone who requests it.

A Section on 03/25/2020

Print Headline: Election officials push for mail-in voting

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