WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday she wants to virus-proof the November election by including funding to boost voting by mail in the next pandemic response plan being put together by Democrats in the House of Representatives.
Pelosi said at least $2 billion, and ideally $4 billion, was needed to enable voting by mail, to give citizens a safe way to vote during the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 4,300 people across the United States.
She noted Democrats got just $400 million for that purpose in the $2.3 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill President Donald Trump signed into law on Friday.
“Vote by mail is so important to … our democracy so that people have access to voting and not be deterred, especially at this time, by the admonition to stay home,” Pelosi told reporters.
Trump told Fox News on Monday that voting by mail would hurt the Republican Party. Pelosi rejected that argument.
“When I was chair of the California Democratic party many years ago, the Republicans always prevailed in the absentee ballots,” she said. “They know how to do this.”
Indeed, some Democrats fear voting by mail could disenfranchise minorities and low-income voters who tend to move more frequently.
The $400 million in the recent coronavirus bill is intended to help state and local officials bolster vote by mail and early voting, expand facilities and hire more poll workers.
But Democrats want more money to prepare states for a possible surge in voting by mail in the fall as millions of voters are set to choose the nation’s next president on Nov. 3. Pelosi said the Postal Service also needs more money.
The coronavirus crisis has already upended the Democratic race to pick a challenger to face Trump.
Three states – Wyoming, Hawaii and Alaska – have scrapped in-person voting for Democratic primaries on April 4, and will only permit voting by mail. Ohio pushed back its March 17 voting, setting a new date of April 28 for a primary conducted almost completely by mail, and at least eight other states pushed their primaries back to May or June.
Democrats are putting together a fourth spending bill to battle the crisis, with an emphasis on infrastructure spending. Trump says he wants to rebuild infrastructure, but other Republicans have shown little interest, seeing it as an attempt to push through Democratic priorities.
Changing election laws has “nothing to do with our war against the disease,” House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a statement Tuesday.
(Corrects date of Ohio primary to April 28 in third last paragraph.)
Reporting by Susan Cornwell in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell