Peters, Klobuchar and Feinstein Call for Hearings on Voter Safety during COVID-19 Pandemic

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ranking Members of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Rules, and Judiciary Committees this week called on the Chairmen of their respective panels to convene hearings on the potentially dangerous impacts of COVID-19 on American voters. In their letter, the Senators raised concerns that public health threats posed by voting amid a deadly pandemic, and sudden changes in primary dates and election rules could disenfranchise voters and contribute to disinformation efforts.

“This is not a partisan issue – this is an American issue. The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy – a right that generations of Americans before us have fought to secure, and a right that we must protect,” the Senators wrote. “We respectfully urge you to immediately convene experts to testify on how we can improve the safety of elections and combat election related misinformation and disinformation during the pandemic.”

This week, voters in Georgia, Nevada, and South Carolina stood for hours waiting in-line to cast their ballots. In Georgia, reports indicate many voters did not receive the absentee they requested, forcing them to show up to vote in-person on Election Day. Earlier this year, Peters, Klobuchar and Feinstein, along with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), introduced the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020, legislation that would expand early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail to all states, and provide states the funding and resources to improve the safety of elections during the Coronavirus pandemic. 

Text of the letter is copied below and available here:

 

Dear Chairmen Blunt, Johnson, and Graham

We write to request that you, Chairmen of the Senate Committees with jurisdiction over federal elections and election related issues, hold hearings on how Congress can work to combat the spread of misinformation related to elections and ensure every eligible American can exercise their right to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

With only 146 days until the general election, it is vital we act now to protect our elections from the threat of COVID-19. Americans are facing unprecedented disruptions to their daily lives, and we need to make sure that in the midst of this pandemic they do not lose their ability to vote. As Congress works to protect the health and wellbeing of the American people, it must also work to protect the safety and sanctity of our democracy. 

Election officials across the country have expressed concern that this pandemic is affecting their ability to administer safe elections. In order to keep voters safe, Republican and Democratic officials are making changes to election processes. Reports indicate that nearly 30 states have changed their election practices for this year’s primaries or the general election in response to the pandemic and officials in sixteen states have postponed presidential primary elections or transitioned to predominantly voting by mail. 

Republican and Democratic governors and secretaries of state have expanded voting by mail during the pandemic. In addition to the five states that already hold their elections by mail, three states have held their presidential primary by mail after sending mail-in ballots to all registered voters, and one state held its primary by sending mail-in ballot applications to all registered voters. Five other states will be sending registered voters mail-in ballots for their next election, with an additional eleven states sending mail-in ballot applications. These changes will affect how approximately 87 million registered voters will cast their ballot this year— including more than 40 million people who now have the temporary right to cast an absentee ballot. 

At the same time, with the changes in primary dates, election rules and practices, and the uncertainty of current rules in practices in many states, experts have warned about the real threat that misinformation and disinformation pose for our elections. It is vital that voters have accurate information on how to cast their ballots and that we put the full weight of the federal government behind combating misinformation and disinformation that intimidates and disenfranchises voters.

Despite bipartisan support for protecting voters during the pandemic, the White House has begun to attack voting by mail, alleging that it leads to increased voter fraud. There is no evidence substantiating these claims, and even the Commission the President assembled to find and prosecute voter fraud was disbanded after it did not find any substantive evidence. False claims regarding voting practices are damaging to the integrity of our democracy and so it is imperative that Congress hold hearings regarding how to protect the right to vote from COVID-19 and to provide facts regarding voting by mail.  

Nobody should have to choose between their health and their right to vote, and Americans deserve accurate information about our democracy. Voters across Wisconsin can attest to the fact that failure to enact reforms and provide assistance to states will result in widespread chaos, the disenfranchisement of voters, and even voters and election workers becoming sick.

This is not a partisan issue – this is an American issue. The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy – a right that generations of Americans before us have fought to secure, and a right that we must protect. We respectfully urge you to immediately convene experts to testify on how we can improve the safety of elections and combat election related misinformation and disinformation during the pandemic.

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