We’re Republican Election Officials, and We Are Worried

During major election years, the stakes are high. The ability of our country to hold fair, secure and accessible elections is the cornerstone of our constitutional republic. And there is perhaps no group that is more aware of these stakes than us, local and state elections administrators from across the country.

While we collectively identify as Republicans, we take seriously our nonpartisan role to administer fair and trustworthy elections. Administering elections in a normal election year requires substantial funding that can strain state and local budgets. It also takes careful planning.

But 2020 is not a normal election year. In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, we need to make commonsense accommodations to allow people to vote safely and securely. We cannot simply postpone or cancel this election, and we’re running out of time to address these challenges.

As states and local governments struggle to address Covid-19, budgets are already spread thin funding all areas of service. Without necessary additional funding from Congress, we run the risk of delayed or contested election results, long lines and crowding that threaten the safety of voters and poll workers, and limited voting access to rural voters, seniors and veterans.

Through the support of Congress and President Donald Trump, state and local governments were granted $400 million to support elections staff this year. This was a much-needed step that has already made a difference, but it’s clear we are going to need more help.

The GOP-proposed relief package currently being debated on Capitol Hill did not include any additional funding to ensure a smooth election in November; we strongly encourage congressional leadership to heed the concerns of local election authorities and reconsider this decision.

Most Americans share our concerns. In a recent poll from President Trump’s own pollster, 78 percent of voters agreed that it was important for the federal government to provide additional funding to state and local governments “to cover the increased costs of conducting elections due to the coronavirus outbreak.”

This year’s election will have additional costs whether a state predominantly votes in-person, by absentee or mail, or a combination of both. In most states, the $400 million appropriated earlier this year has already been dedicated to purchasing personal protective equipment for poll workers, stocking cleaning supplies for polling locations, increasing poll worker compensation and covering higher mailing costs due to an uptick in voters choosing to vote absentee.

We know first-hand that that $400 million was just a down payment on what we need. In Greene County, Mo., for example, more than $50,000 is needed just to recruit additional election judges and compensate all our election judges with hazard pay. Rochester Hills, Mich., already has high-speed tabulators, but significant increases in absentee ballots, letter openers, postage, envelopes, secrecy sleeves as well as increased staff hours to verify ballots will cost the city a minimum of $60,000. Even Weber County, Utah, already a vote by mail county, exceeded its June primary budget by more than a third — $50,000 — to ensure the safety of those who do vote in person on Election Day.

Many local election officials need even more significant investments to replace aging voting machines and shore up absentee ballot security, but federal funding has already been exhausted. In fact, a study from the R Street Institute found that the election support provided by the CARES Act only covered a small fraction — from 10 to 18 percent in states analyzed — of what is required.

During the recent primary season, we saw what can happen when election officials are not given sufficient support. In Wisconsin, where the state’s Elections Commission reported four times as many absentee ballot requests compared to 2016, many voters did not receive their requested ballots in time. In Georgia, polling places were consolidated or moved last-minute when officials couldn’t get enough poll workers. This, along with widespread issues with voting machines, resulted in long lines. Some voters waited hours to cast their ballots, and polling locations stayed open long after they were set to close.

America has held elections during wars, depressions and pandemics. And during each, we have risen to the challenge. A fair and accurate election has perhaps never been more important than in this moment. Congress and the president cannot risk compromising our elections by underfunding state and local election authorities during these unusual and challenging times. Doing so would undercut our ability to properly administer the election and threaten the foundation of our democracy.

We respectfully ask Congress to appropriate an additional round of funding with no policy or state matching strings attached. This will ensure elections can proceed forward and local election authorities can prevent harmful election scenarios that could cast doubt in the mind of voters as to the legitimacy of the election outcome.