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The massive $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package President Trump is waiting to sign into law upon likely passage by the House of Representatives includes $400 million to help states move toward mail-in voting, amid a pandemic that is forcing many Americans to shelter at home.
The funds would assist states as they expand voting by mail, early voting, online registration and make in-person voting safer for all.
Lawmakers and election advocates are warning that if states don’t receive federal assistance to move away from in-person voting, there could be low turnout and disruptions in November’s general election.
The coronavirus outbreak has upended the presidential nominating calendar, with many states postponing their remaining contests.
Mail-in voting was already the default option for three states that are scheduled to hold primaries on April 4: Alaska, Hawaii and Wyoming. Now all three states are moving to 100 percent vote-by-mail and are extending the deadlines for ballots to be delivered.
Among the states that have postponed their primaries until June, Georgia and Ohio are spending millions to send absentee ballots to voters.
Currently three states – Colorado, Oregon and Washington – vote only by mail. More than a dozen other states allow mail-in-voting as an option.
The $400 million in election funding in the bill passed by the Senate is up from $140 million proposed in the original bill assembled by Senate Republicans. Some Senate Democrats had pushed for $2 billion in funding. That was the price tag suggested last week by the non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice to help states make voting safe from the threat of coronavirus.
The Brennan Center warned on Twitter that the funding in the Senate bill is “far less than election officials need to hold a safe, fair, accurate election in Nov. Congress needs to make up the difference ASAP.”
Some Republican lawmakers oppose coronavirus stimulus funding to beef up voting by mail, arguing that it has nothing to do with helping workers, small businesses and large companies devastated by the shutdown of much of the economy due to the pandemic.
Among the critics was GOP Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, who tweeted earlier this week that early voting and other elements pushed by Democrats do “nothing” to help workers and small businesses “survive the coronavirus crisis.”