press release Covid-19 elections


New York— April 17, 2020

As the drumbeat for increased congressional funding for elections grows louder, a group of advocates are demanding that any spending bill include specific accountability language to ensure funds are spent as intended and where most needed. In an open letter to congressional leaders, SMART Elections, and over 50 other election protection groups, election experts and concerned advocates warn that flooding election administrators with a tsunami of funding without careful public oversight could actually do more harm than good. 

The latest call for increased spending comes from Senator Kamala Harris, who is proposing five billion dollars to fund elections during the pandemic. The letter points out, “The last time Congress allocated close to four billion dollars for elections, in 2002 with the Help America Vote Act, there was insufficient oversight. Funds were often used to purchase outdated, insecure electronic voting systems that undermined security, accuracy, reliability, and confidence. We cannot afford to repeat that mistake.”

Jennifer Cohn, an attorney and advocate with over one hundred thousand Twitter followers who signed the letter, reported in a comprehensive 2019 article on the ways that election funding has been misappropriated over the years. In the article, she raised alarms about congressional spending patterns saying, "Congress appears poised to fund another generation of risky touchscreen voting machines called universal use Ballot Marking Devices (or BMDs)." The article provides insight into how voting machine vendors have made contributions, given gifts and sponsored trips for election officials in major swing states like Pennsylvania and North Carolina, as well as New York, South Carolina and Texas. When election officials across the country have such cozy relationships with vendors, there is no way to allocate funding safely unless it comes with strict requirements on how the funds can be spent. 

The AP mirrored Cohn's reporting, saying election officials, "are opting for pricier technology that computer security experts consider almost as risky as earlier discredited electronic systems."

Says Lulu Friesdat, Co-Founder of SMART Elections, "We need to think of election funding in the same way that historically we've approached pre-clearance for state election procedures. Many jurisdictions have made poor financial decisions in the past, especially when purchasing expensive technology. Because of that, we need elections expenditures to meet common sense standards showing funds are being well-spent." Friesdat articulated her concerns about the dangers of unrestricted election funding previously in a Senate Briefing and an op-ed at The Hill

The open letter was written with the guidance of current and former election officials, as well as election, security, and auditing experts. It acknowledges that states need more resources, and that the use of absentee ballot voting and vote-by-mail must be increased to address health concerns. But the advocates urge that critical requirements be attached to federal election funding, including the following: 

  • Require that an expansion of absentee ballot voting and vote-by-mail include the ability to track requested and voted ballots; secure, monitored dropboxes where mail-in ballots can be delivered personally; notification if a voted ballot has been rejected, and the ability to cure the rejection remotely.
  • Prohibit any expansion of Internet and email voting.
  • Require secure chain of custody protocols for all ballots, voting materials and equipment.
  • Prohibit the use of congressional funding to purchase touchscreen and hybrid voting machines, which elevate the risk of disease transmission, are not secure, increase wait times and add unnecessary expense. 
  • Maintain confidence in the election results by requiring states to adopt a public oversight statute similar to Colorado’s 1-7-108
  • Require risk-limiting audits or full hand-count audits.

The advocates emphasize that these measures are necessary "to ensure the safe, secure, accurate, transparent and trustworthy administration of U.S. elections."

Read the full letter.

It is signed by the following groups, experts and advocates:

SMART Elections

Elevating Election Reform to an Urgent National Priority

Lulu Friesdat, Co-Founder

Holly Mosher, Co-Founder

Jim Soper, Co-Founder

AUDIT Elections USA; John Brakey, Director

Bay Area Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement

Bennie Smith, Shelby County Election Commissioner*

Candidates With A Contract; Kelley Lane, Board Member

Citizens for Voting Integrity New York; Allegra Dengler, Co-Founder

Citizens’ Oversight Project; Ray Lutz, Executive Director

Center for Common Ground

Courage California; Eddie Kurtz, Executive Director

Courage Campaign


Democracy Counts!; Daniel Wolf, CEO

East Valley Indivisibles; Eileen Austen, Leadership Team; Harvie Branscomb

Election Defense Alliance; Sally Castleman, Chairperson

Election Security/Voters’ Rights Indivisible IL, Rose Colacino, Lead

Gratitude in Motion Fund

Green Party of Alameda County; Xylem Galadhon

Indiana Vote By Mail, Barbara Tully

Indivisible CA33

Indivisible CA-43/Playa del Rey; Vlad Popescu, Leader

Indivisible California Green Team; Jennifer Tanner, Founder

Indivisible Claremont/ Inland Valley; Laurie Pittman, Leadership Member

Indivisible East Bay

Indivisible El Dorado Hills; Nancy Corona-Guzman, Steering Committee

Indivisible NJ 5; Han Broekman, Steering Committee

Indivisible Sacramento

Indivisible San Francisco

Indivisible Santa Barbara; Keith Carlson, Steering Committee

Indivisible SF Peninsula and CA-14

Indivisible Stanislaus; Denise Hunt, Founder, Coordinating Leader

Indivisible Tracy; Yvonne Eder, President

Indivisible Ventura

Indivisible Yolo; Rachel Beck, Chair

IndivisibleWeStand UWS; Andrea Fink, Organizer

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Adam Mason

Jennifer Cohn; Attorney and Election Integrity Advocate

Jonathan D. Simon; Author, Code Red

Livermore Indivisible; Kristine Kansa, Steering Committee

Michigan Election Reform Alliance, Jan BenDor

Mimi Kennedy; Actress and Activist

Money Out Voters In, Michele Sutter, Executive Director

Movement for a People's Party, Suzanne O'Keeffe

National Voting Rights Task Force; Dale Axelrod, Co-Chair

Normal Heights Indivisible (NHI); Mala Wingerd, Activist

Northridge Indivisible; Michelle Fowle, Founder and Chair

People Demanding Action; Andrea Miller, Co-Executive Director 

Pinellas Demcratic Party; Sharon Janis, Treasurer

Progressive Democrats of America; Alan Minsky, National Organizer

Secure Elections Network; Stephanie Chaplin Co-Founder and Lead

Scrutineers LLC, Emily Levy, Founder

Stephanie Singer; Hatfield School of Government, Portland State University*

Transparent Elections NC; Lynn Bernstein, Founder

Venice Resistance; Jed Pauker, Founding Board Member

Virginia Martin, Former Democratic Election Commissioner, Columbia County NY*

WESPAC; Nada Khader, Executive Director

Yalla Indivisible; Lulu Hammad, Steering Committee Member

*Affiliation is for identification purposes only and does not signify organizational endorsement.

If your group addresses election reform issues, or you are an academic or election reform advocate and you would like to sign onto the letter please fill out this google form. Thank you!