New salvo in contentious partisan battle over expanding vote by mail amid coronavirus crisis
Get all the latest news on coronavirus and more delivered daily to your inbox. Sign up here.
“This shouldn’t be a right vs. left issue. This is right vs. wrong issue. It is wrong to force people to put their own safety at risk to exercise their right to vote. It is right to ensure that people have options on how they vote,” Perez told reporters Friday on a conference call.
The comments are the latest salvo in the partisan fight over a push by Democrats to expand voting by mail and absentee ballots while serious health concerns persist due to the coronavirus outbreak, over the in-person casting of ballots at polling stations.
Five states currently vote entirely by mail: Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Utah and Hawaii. Perez pointed to “the common-sense ideas that have been put in place” and stressed that “they are sorely needed across the nation.” And he highlighted that voting by mail is “safe, secure and accessible. It’s convenient for votes. It increases turnout.”
The push by Perez and other Democrats is facing plenty of opposition from President Trump and Republicans, who’ve long opposed moves to expand voting by mail and early voting arguing that it invites voter fraud abuse.
Democrats – pushing back on such arguments – say that cases of actual voter fraud are limited and claim that Republicans are trying to suppress voter turnout to improve their chances of winning elections.
“Mail-in voting is horrible. It’s corrupt,” the president stressed at a recent coronavirus daily White House briefing as he kept up his full-court press against expanding voting by mail.
Trump then suggested that “you get thousands and thousands of people sitting in someone’s living room signing ballots all over the place. … I think that mail-in voting is a terrible thing.” The president didn’t offer evidence to back up his claim that voting by mail is rampant with fraud and abuse.
The president’s comments follow a similar attack on voting by mail just days earlier, when he charged that “a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting.”
“It shouldn’t be mail-in voting,” Trump added. “It should be: you go to a booth and you proudly display yourself. You don’t send it in the mail where people can pick up. All sorts of bad things can happen … by the time it gets in and is tabulated.”
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel – in a recent opinion piece for Fox News – charged that the election reforms pushed by Democrats would “vastly expand opportunities for fraud and weaken confidence in our elections, but all Washington Democrats see is a potential benefit for their party.”
The RNC and the Trump reelection campaign launched a joint multimillion-dollar legal campaign to block attempts by Democrats to change voting rules amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Democratic National Committee – in pushing back against the GOP efforts – is teaming up with state Democratic parties to help voters obtain absentee ballots.
With the coronavirus outbreak forcing social distancing and keeping most Americans in their homes in hopes of preventing a spread of the virus, nearly all the states delayed their remaining primary elections or transforming them nearly entirely to voting by mail and absentee balloting.
But last week – after a bitter partisan fight won by Republicans – Wisconsin became the first state to hold in-person voting during the pandemic.
With the state under a stay-at-home order, thousands of poll workers refused to show up over health concerns, forcing many cities and towns to cut the number of polling stations. Milwaukee was down to just five polling sites from the original 180.
Even though the National Guard stepped in to provide some assistance, long lines instantly formed as the polls opened, with many voters waiting hours to cast a ballot. In many instances, social distancing was extremely difficult to maintain.
Democrats in Wisconsin and across the nation decried the rulings to carry on with the in-person voting during the pandemic.
What we saw in Wisconsin over the past two weeks was unconscionable,” Perez argued. “What the GOP did there, opposing vote by mail, forcing voters to stand in lines for hours, in crowded lines.”
He contrasted Wisconsin’s contest with the vote-by-mail Washington State primary that was held a month earlier.
“When Washingtonians voted on March 10, they were a hotspot….nationally for the coronavirus and not withstanding that the election went off incredibly successfully. Participation was off the charts,” he emphasized.
And he pointed to the efforts by some Republican governors to expand voting by mail or by absentee ballot.
“I want to thank and applaud Gov. DeWine, the governor of Iowa, the governor of New Hampshire, Republican governors who have recognized that using expanded vote by mail, providing those options for voters, is the right way to go,” he noted.
The political war between Democrats and Republicans over expanding voting by mail and absentee balloting for November’s general election is also playing out in the nation’s capital.
The $2 trillion economic stimulus package passed by Congress last month also included $400 million to help states move toward mail-in voting.
Senate Democrats had pushed for $2 billion in election funding, with House Democrats angling for double that amount. Congressional Democrats say they’ll work to increase funding in the next stimulus package.
A study from the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice released last month spotlighted sweeping changes to current voting practices across the country – such as universal mail-in voting, ballot drive-by drop off boxes from coast to coast, and easier online voter registration – to make voting in November safe. That group’s price tag to implement the changes was $2 billion.