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On Call with Bipartisan Group of State and Local Election Officials, Ranking Member Klobuchar and Leader Schumer Discuss Election Preparedness and Need for Additional Emergency Funding

WASHINGTON – On Wednesday, September 16, 2020, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ranking Member of the Rules Committee with oversight jurisdiction over federal elections and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), held a call with a bipartisan group of state and local election officials to discuss plans they are implementing to ensure a successful general election this fall. They also discussed the urgent need for additional emergency election funding as states continue to grapple with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We are 48 days out from Election Day, ballots are already being mailed in some states, and early voting begins in Minnesota this Friday. Our democracy is facing unprecedented challenges and our top priority is to make sure people are safe. As we do that, we must also continue to protect our elections from the coronavirus and foreign interference. I will continue to fight for additional funding to ensure elections are safe and successful,” Klobuchar said. 

Leader Schumer said after the call: “Administering a national election while navigating the COVID-19 pandemic is made even more challenging because of foreign interference by Vladimir Putin. State and local officials are demanding support from Congress to protect our elections -- the wellspring of our Democracy. Senate Republicans must stop standing in the way of a comprehensive COVID relief bill that includes additional funding to help states administer a free and fair election in which every vote is counted.”

Across the board, the top request the Senators heard from those on the call was for more Election Assistance Commission grant funding. 

“For months, states have been working hard to ensure their voters have accessible, safe, and secure voting options this fall while in the midst of a pandemic,” said Washington State Elections Director Lori Augino. “Election officials have put the CARES grants to good use, as well as funding they have received from their respective state and local governments, but all states could benefit from additional resources. We encourage Congress to invest in democracy this fall, and lend support to election officials who are working diligently toward conducting a successful election in November.”

“The COVID pandemic has caused states to reexamine how elections are conducted in order to keep voters safe while protecting their fundamental right to the ballot.  In order to ensure states have the tools to carry out this November’s election securely, Congress must include funding for elections in any subsequent stimulus package.  Our very democracy is at stake.  I appreciate Senators Schumer and Klobuchar’s leadership on this issue and for continuing the dialog on this vital matter,” said Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold.

New Mexico Secretary of State, Maggie Toulouse Oliver said, “Our state spent almost all of the money previously allocated on PPE for our poll workers. Our challenges are the increase in mail in balloting, providing drop boxes in remote areas, as well as outreach and resources for tribal areas. We need this additional funding.”

“The good news is that there is a playbook on keeping this election accessible, secure, and safe. But additional vote by mail, in person options with appropriate PPE as well new larger election locations that allow for physical distancing all cost more money. We need additional federal funding now,” said California Secretary of State, Alex Padilla.

“In Michigan we have to do significant voter outreach as well as election security to protect this election,” said Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. “Additional federal funding now will allow us to prepare for the additional challenges this election brings as well as respond to any election security issues that may arise.”

Pennsylvania Secretary of State, Kathy Boockvar: “Extra resources would be extremely helpful for our counties so that they can staff up accordingly for this election. More funding is also critical for counties to provide polling places with funds to ensure sufficient cleaning and safety in all voting locations, as well as for enlisting necessary poll workers and expanding voter education.”

Orange County, California Registrar of voters, Mr. Neal Kelley: “We have deployed drop boxes, printed many more mail-in ballots, and have ensured that polling locations have the PPE so that they are prepared for in-person voting. We still need to do more voter outreach given the changes this pandemic has brought to this coming election and additional resources would greatly aid in that effort.”

Minnesota Secretary of State, Steve Simon: “This is an election like no other and requires an extraordinary response. We need to get the word out to voters to explain their options for safe, secure voting this year. We also need resources to keep our polling places safe with PPE -- not just for voters, but for poll workers and those who administer elections.”

Klobuchar and Schumer were joined on the call by New Mexico Secretary of State, Maggie Toulouse Oliver; Minnesota Secretary of State, Steve Simon; California Secretary of State, Alex Padilla; Michigan Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson; Pennsylvania Secretary of State, Kathy Boockvar; Colorado Secretary of State, Jena Griswold; Director of Elections for Washington, Ms. Lori Augino; and Orange County, California Registrar of Voters, Neal Kelley. 

The call highlighted bipartisan support for additional election funding and measures states and local jurisdictions are implementing to ensure that everyone can safely cast a ballot for the general election.

In March, Senators Klobuchar and Wyden introduced the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020 to ensure all voters can cast a ballot by mail, extend early in-person voting in every state to at least 20 days, and provide states with the funding necessary to cover additional costs in administering elections during the coronavirus pandemic. The legislation currently has 37 cosponsors. 

In April, Klobuchar wrote an op-ed in the New York Times on the need to expand mail voting, early voting, and online voter registration. In March, Klobuchar and Wyden wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post, highlighting the need “to protect the foundation of our democracy by ensuring that every eligible American can safely cast a ballot in the upcoming elections.”

Before the Senate considered the third relief package, Senators Coons and Klobuchar sent a letter to Pelosi, McCarthy, McConnell, and Schumer, urging them to include funding to protect the 2020 elections. In April, Klobuchar, Coons, and Wyden published an op-ed in USA TODAY, highlighting the need for the fourth relief package to include money and direction for states to expand vote-by-mail and early voting.

In May, Klobuchar took to the Senate Floor Klobuchar to ask for unanimous consent to lift restrictions that prevent states from accessing election funding designated to help them safely carry out elections during the pandemic, Republicans objected to Klobuchar’s request.

On June 11, Klobuchar led her colleagues in a letter to Blunt, Ron Johnson (R-WI) of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in calling for hearings on the threat coronavirus poses for elections.

In July, Klobuchar and Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), along with Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL-08), introduced the National Emergency Student Vote Act to help college students nationwide exercise their right to vote in the 2020 elections, even as millions are displaced from their campuses due to the pandemic.