GOP officials cite costs of early voting, federalizing elections in Democrats’ bill

Republicans say the cost of administering early voting is a reason to allow states to dictate how — and for how long — their voters can go to the polls. 

Congressional Democrats’ massive elections bill, titled the For the People Act, would require states to have at least two weeks of early voting in an attempt to nationalize election standards. Liberal lawmakers say it will give more voters a chance to participate in democracy. 

But North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Michael Whatley said states must account and pay for poll observers and election workers for the duration of early voting. For that reason, individual states, not the federal government, should be able to set their own timelines, he said.

“There certainly would be more costs,” Mr. Whatley said. “You have the same level of supervision from the county board of elections. We obviously prefer to have the state and the state legislature setting the rules.”

North Carolina offers two weeks of early voting. If the Democrats’ federal election bill were to be enacted, that timeline would comply with the national standard. 

But the proposal from Washington would affect both blue and red states that don’t offer early voting options in compliance with the Democrats’ bill, which also requires early voting sites near public transportation and in rural areas. 

The legislation further would mandate states to conduct early voting on weekends, and for 10 hours a day at polling locations. 

At least six states do not currently offer in-person voting ahead of Election Day, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some states offer early absentee voting, while others allow a combination of the two. Delaware has passed an early voting measure, but it won’t go into effect until 2022. 

The length of early voting, according to NCSL, varies between 45 days to just a few days prior to Election Day.

Georgia considered banning Sunday voting ahead of Election Day. But the legislature backed off in provisions approved last week, and the law still permits early voting on weekends. 

The Texas state senate advanced a bill Thursday that would place a limit on early voting hours and ban drive-through voting. That bill will now go to the Texas House for further consideration. 

Iowa, too, recently enacted a law that cuts early voting from 29 days to 20 days, and requires polling sites to close an hour earlier, at 8 p.m. instead of 9 p.m.

Hispanic groups filed a lawsuit to block the Iowa law from going into effect earlier this month, arguing it disenfranchises minority voters and makes it harder to vote.

Supporters of Iowa’s changes note that the law does not go into effect for a year and a half, giving voters plenty of time to make plans on when to get to the  polls. The state law also makes the early voting time more uniform across Iowa’s 99 counties.

But Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections for the progressive Common Cause, said Republicans’ concerns about costs associated with early voting are without merit, and that their goal is to disenfranchise minorities.

She said the congressional Democrats’ proposal would help to counter efforts from Republican legislatures to limit access to the polls.

“Early voting is most effective for lower-income individuals — black and brown individuals — who can’t make it to the polls during regular hours on Election Day,” Ms. Albert said. 

Conservatives, though, point to a number of other issues aside from the cost for states that they say raise concerns with prolonged periods of early voting. 

Hans von Spakovsky, a former member of the Federal Election Commission and senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said early voting increases spending for political campaigns, which conduct lengthy get-out-the vote efforts.

Voters also run the risk of casting ballots too early when they’re uninformed about late-breaking developments in a contest.

States that have early voting for a month or so ahead of Election Day see voters casting their ballots before all debates are conducted and prior to any 11th-hour news from the campaigns that could affect voters’ decisions.

And critics of the proposed federal election law claim it doesn’t only upend states’ ability to control early voting, but also dismantles their entire election systems from everything to voter rolls to absentee ballots.

“There is a reason our Founding Fathers intended for states to run their own elections: to protect against a federal power grab like this one that would clearly shift power to one political party and centralize all control in Washington,” said Rep. Ashley Hinson, Iowa Republican.

The House passed the For the People Act last month, and the Senate is now conducting hearings on the bill. 

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said the bill is a priority for his chamber, with or without bipartisan support.

“We will see if our Republican friends join us. If they don’t join us, our caucus will come together and decide the appropriate action to take everything is on the table. Failure is not an option,” he said.

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