ELECTION FUNDING WITH NO OVERSIGHT WILL BE DISASTROUS

To Our Congressional Leaders

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi

Speaker of the House 


The Honorable Kevin McCarthy

Minority Leader


The Honorable Mitch McConnell

Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate


The Honorable Chuck Schumer

Minority Leader of the U.S. Senate

 

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader McConnell, Leader McCarthy, and Leader Schumer,


April 14, 2020


There is currently a widespread call for billions of dollars in funding from Congress to support the 2020 elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. The current health crisis is creating large-scale challenges for election officials. They desperately need and deserve additional resources. 


However, the last time Congress allocated close to four billion dollars for elections, in 2002 with the Help America Vote Act, there was insufficient oversight of spending. Funds were often used to purchase outdated, insecure electronic voting systems that undermined security, accuracy, reliability, and confidence.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. 


We support increased Congressional funding for states to administer elections subject to the requirements listed below. This will help to maximize participation and to ensure the safe, secure, accurate, transparent and trustworthy administration of U.S. elections. We don’t have to choose between a vibrant, robust democracy and the protection of public health—we can do both at the same time.  These solutions will help. (Press Release)


1. Increase voting by mail, taking into account current systems and resources. There are many differences between absentee voting and a full vote-by-mail system. Many states will not have the resources, equipment, or accurate voter rolls necessary to send a ballot through the mail to every registered voter and process the returned ballots. States must assess what is best for full, safe, and trustworthy participation of the electorate: increased absentee ballot voting, or a more expanded vote by mail system, keeping in mind that voting in person will still be necessary because voting by mail does not work well for every community.


2. Make voter registration and voting through the mail easier, while ensuring security.

  • Allow online voter registration and same-day voter registration.
  • Allow voters to request an absentee ballot in person, electronically, via fax or through standard mail with no requirement for a witness or notarized signature.
  • Require states to establish absentee ballot deadlines that encourage full participation. The Klobuchar-Wyden bill recommends that requests for absentee ballots be accepted up until 5 days before an election. 
  • Require states to accept absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day. (Klobuchar/Wyden bill) The public and the media will need to be aware that tabulation of results may be slower than they are used to, and that accuracy and public oversight are more important than speed.
  • Require postage-paid self-sealing envelopes with postmarks for mail-in applications & ballots.
  • Require systems that allow voters to track the arrival and return of absentee ballots and envelopes, as well as whether the ballot has been received & approved.
  • Require states to give voters who do not receive, or lose, or damage a mail-in ballot the option to pick it up in person.
  • Require dropboxes for voters to return ballots in person that are secure, attended or monitored with close-up video cameras. 
  • Require election officials to report publicly, accurately, and promptly (in real time, during the election) which voters requested, which voters received, which voters did not receive, or did not receive in time to vote -  an absentee ballot, as well as which voters had voted ballots challenged and the status of that challenge. 
  • Require voters to be promptly notified if their voted ballot is rejected.
  • Require that voters whose ballots have been rejected have ample time and opportunity to “cure” the issue remotely.
  • Require states to maintain voter privacy when separating mail-in ballots from return envelopes.
  • Prohibit any expansion of Internet and email voting: experts agree these options are not secure.
  • Do not expand "print at home" ballots beyond their current minimal use in some states and by uniformed and overseas citizen voters. 
  • Print ballots on durable recycled stock with an official watermark. 
  • Require secure chain of custody protocols for all ballots (unvoted, voted, and spoiled), voting materials and equipment, including regulations for ballot accounting.


3. Protect the U.S. Postal Service with increased funding. A fully functional postal service is crucial when our democracy depends on expanding mail-in voting. 


4. Require Election Administrators to immediately expand and streamline absentee voting and/or voting by mail. Set deadlines for election administrators to publish plans for these changes and to launch voter outreach campaigns so that the changes are enacted successfully and voters are informed and not confused. Make sure voters receive information about vote by mail requirements.


5. Have an honest, national conversation about third party ballot collection. Laws differ from state to state on who may collect a voted ballot for a voter. It is important for election administrators to be aware that this process is necessary in some communities, in particular for Native Americans; but that there is also documentation of real abuse, such as in North Carolina's ninth district. For the moment, we suggest requiring election administrators to educate voters that when possible it is best to cast or mail a voted ballot personally. But we also understand that a more thorough review of these practices is needed.


6. Require election administrators to recruit more poll workers immediately. 


7. Require in-person Early Voting, Election Day voting, and central count processes to follow the CDC and EAC guidelines for masks, social distancing, and cleaning. Voters, Poll Workers, Election Officials, judges and observers must be able to follow safety guidelines and be protected.


8. Prohibit the use of Congressional funding to purchase touchscreen voting machines. 

  • Touchscreens are a disease vector. 
  • They are many times more expensive than hand-marked paper ballot systems and are a poor budget choice when funding is needed for so many other critical resources.
  • Touchscreen voting systems require longer terminal times for each voter leading to longer lines, which are never acceptable but are particularly dangerous in a pandemic.
  • Touchscreen voting machines do not provide a record of the voter’s intent that can be trusted.
  • They are best reserved for voters with disabilities, following the guidelines above.
  • Consider returning to paper poll books where possible.


9. Prohibit closing or relocating polling places in a way that disproportionately impacts vulnerable populations, including voters with disabilities. Require polling place changes including consolidation to take place at least 45 days prior to the start of Early Voting and be accompanied by public outreach and written notification to affected voters.


10. To maintain confidence in the election results, require states to adopt a public oversight statute similar to Colorado’s 1-7-108, “Each watcher shall have the right … to witness and verify each step in the conduct of the election from prior to the opening of the polls through the completion of the count and announcement of the results … and to assist in the correction of discrepancies.” Due to the pandemic, it is important that states require remote observers to be given meaningful and close-up access to signature verification and tabulation (for example a video camera where votes and/or a signature are visible close-up on the screen). Do not allow states to designate signatures as private information because it inhibits the observation process. Colorado also has useful rules on election judges.


11. Require risk-limiting audits or full hand-count audits. Take advantage of this increase in the use of hand-marked paper ballots (absentee ballots and vote-by-mail) to mandate meaningful manual audits of reported results using those paper ballots. Require that all official audits be conducted using the original hand-marked (or for voters with disabilities: voter-marked) paper ballots. 


12. Require that jurisdictions make the data created by any computer or voting system used in an election available to the public (as long as voter privacy is not compromised.) This must be done in a timely manner prior to certification of the results. In particular, require critical election data such as cast vote records and list vote records (when available), the number of voters who voted, the number of cast ballots, and precinct-level election results in a user-friendly (comma separated values) format be available, immediately following elections, on official election websites. 


It is imperative that Congress, state and local officials, and local election 

administrators move quickly and with care to implement the above suggestions. The American electoral system is the cornerstone of our democracy, and we must ensure everyone can use it to make their voices heard, even in the midst of a crisis. Doing so will go a long way to keep voters safe, keep elections accurate and trustworthy and increase confidence in the results.  


Sincerely, 

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

DemCastUSA

Democracy Counts!; Daniel Wolf, CEO

East Valley Indivisibles; Eileen Austen, Leadership Team

ElectionQuality.com; 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.


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