Amid COVID-19 Pandemic, Sarbanes Calls for Congressional Action to Ensure Free, Fair and Safe Voting in November Election [Video]
WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a press conference today with Speaker Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-D.C.) and Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-U.S.V.I.), Democracy Reform Task Force Chair Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) urged Congress to act immediately to provide state and local jurisdictions across the country with the resources they need to conduct free, fair and safe elections in November amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
On May 15, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Heroes Act, a critical relief package to address the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency and provide desperately needed support for American families, essential workers, small businesses, hospitals, health care providers and state and local governments. A critical element of the bill included $3.6 billion to help states conduct safe elections by expanding no-excuse absentee voting, early voting and vote-by-mail efforts and by delivering critical resources to protect the health and safety of voters and poll workers.
“There’s no question that health concerns remain at the forefront right now for the country and certainly the economic dislocation that's come from the COVID-19 impact,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “But we also know – from talking to our constituents, from polls – that people are anxious as well about having the opportunity to vote in this very, very important election year. And so we’ve got to do everything we can to protect and preserve that opportunity, because in a democracy – and certainly, we believe, in a democracy like ours – voting is an essential activity.”
Sarbanes continued: “People have to be able to exercise that vote without sacrificing their health and their safety. Our caucus has made voting and voting empowerment a priority from day one. And with the leadership of many women candidates who came in 2018, we followed through on a promise to make sure that we would reform democracy and expand opportunities for voting in this country. And that's what H.R. 1 included. And this class was the class that made sure under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi that we got that done in the first 100 days by March 8 of 2019.”
Sarbanes added: “… Those priorities were embedded in H.R. 1, and all of those measures were designed to make voting more robust and easier in America. What we didn't know – and we now know – is many of those provisions also make voting safer in America, and that's why we’ve incorporated it into the Heroes Act… We carried forward that imperative to make sure that voting would be available to people across the country and the measures included are ones that make it safer to vote. Expanding vote-by-mail opportunities across the country, as the Speaker said – online voter registration, same-day voter registration, making sure there’s enough early voting opportunities for people in the country, which can also help with safety because you spread out the time when people can vote. And of course, ensuring that there are meaningful in-person Election Day voting opportunities for those who may not access vote-by-mail as easily. So those are critical measures that are part of the Heroes Act and getting funding behind that and out to the states and local jurisdictions is critical.”
Sarbanes concluded: “Let me close with this observation, because we know that there are some who want to make this issue of voting by mail into a partisan issue. There’s nothing partisan about this. This is only patriotic. This is about making it possible for people to vote in America. The number one priority. This is the way you express your voice in our democracy is to cast your ballot. And Secretaries of State in both parties, Republicans and Democrats across the country, are clamoring for this support and this funding because they want to do their job…. If we get them the resources, we’re gonna have an election in November that we can be proud of. But we’ve got to get it done. That’s what the Heroes Act stands for, and again, Madame Speaker, thank you for your leadership on this issue.”
See below for the Congressman’s full remarks.
See here for video of the full press conference.