California’s elections chief on $400M in stimulus to protect elections

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to pass a $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill on Friday that includes $400 million to ensure Americans can vote during the global pandemic.

But that amount falls short of what states actually need to ensure Americans have access to democracy during this time of crisis, California’s Secretary of State Alex Padilla told Yahoo Finance’s “On The Move” on Thursday.

“Throughout our nation’s history, Americans have gone to the polls, in times of peace, in times of war, in good economic times and in times of recession, including the Great Depression, and also during previous health pandemics so our democracy is resilient,” said Padilla, who’s California’s top elections official.

The $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill, the largest emergency spending package in U.S. history, contains a host of measures including cash assistance for millions of Americans and billions of dollars in loans for businesses large and small. The $400 million earmarked for elections is far less than the billions some Democrats sought and elections experts recommended to ensure people could vote safely amid the pandemic.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – MAY 24: California secretary of state Alex Padilla speaks during a news conference at Uber headquarters on May 24, 2018 in San Francisco, California. California secretary of state Alex Padilla announced a partnership with Uber to feature a public service announcement that will appear when Uber users and drivers open their app reminding them vote in Caifornia’s statewide primary on June 5th. The notification will begin appearing on the Uber app on June 2nd. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“To see the stimulus package include only $400 million, while it’s welcome by states, it’s certainly not enough. We can and must maintain our democracy in November, but do so in a way that maximizes voter participation and public health and safety,” he said.

Republicans have pushed back against funding for elections. Some state officials, however, are arguing the current crisis is precisely why we need more money for our elections — to pay for things like online registration, mail-in ballots, and early voting in an era of social distancing.

“Many of the policies that California has championed to maximize access to the ballot box make a whole lot of sense for elections during a health pandemic,” Padilla said. “Policies like online voter registration, policies like no-excuse-vote-by-mail, policies like offering early in-person voting opportunities for all voters.” 

The coronavirus pandemic has already affected U.S. elections and thrown the presidential primary calendar into disarray. Ohio, Connecticut, Maryland, Georgia, Louisiana, and Kentucky are among at least 10 states and territories that have postponed their elections as officials enforce strict rules on public gatherings. Many of those states are now pushing to eliminate in-person primary voting altogether this year and switch to mail-in ballots only.

There’s no serious talk about, so far, about delaying the general election in November.

“We think of the November general election not as an ‘if’ and not even as a ‘when’ but as a ‘how’ we’re going to maintain access to democracy for all citizens while maintaining public health and safety,” Padilla said.

Kevin Burke is an executive producer for Yahoo Finance.

Read more:

Here’s what’s in the $2 trillion stimulus bill for businesses

Americans fear the coronavirus — but most aren’t changing their behavior, poll finds

Coronavirus crisis: How to deal with potentially contaminated money

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