House Coronavirus Response Bill Takes Step to Safeguard Elections as Well as the Economy

Statement of Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause 

The House Democrats’ Coronavirus emergency response bill introduced today takes vital steps to address the public health and economic emergencies and importantly takes steps to safeguard our democracy from this pandemic as well. Our elections are the lifeblood of our democracy, and every American expects and deserves to have their vote counted. Millions of American citizens are in danger of being disenfranchised by the Coronavirus pandemic if drastic steps are not taken. The Senate bill pushed by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is woefully underfunded and amounts to only token gestures toward safeguarding every citizen’s right to vote. While it is only a small percentage of the overall relief package, the House bill invests $4 billion in our state and local elections to expand no-excuse absentee and early voting as well as providing vote-by-mail options during an emergency.

Last Tuesday’s primaries offered a glimpse of just how vulnerable our system of voting is to a pandemic. The House bill takes the threat seriously and provides the funding to help states and communities ensure every American has the opportunity to make their voice heard at the polls.

The House bill further safeguards our democracy by strengthening the 2020 Census to ensure that everyone can be counted. The bill also includes an “emergency connectivity fund” to help close broadband connectivity gaps and ensure marginalized communities affected by the pandemic have affordable access. The emergency connectivity fund allocates $1 billion to the FCC to expand the Lifeline program to provide eligible low-income households with broadband access, and $2 billion for Wi-Fi hotspots to connect students at home without broadband.

Standing up against special interest pressure, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), and their colleagues deserve significant credit for putting voters before corporations. Those corporations, not their employees, are a much bigger focus of the Senate bill, which goes so far as to create a sizeable slush fund for loans through the Treasury Department that lacks sufficient oversight and timely transparency about its beneficiaries. And perhaps tellingly, President Trump has refused to pledge not to accept federal aid for his hotels and other properties.

We are hopeful that Republicans in the Senate will come to recognize the need for accountability for any federal loan program for the good of our economy. And further, we hope the Senate will recognize the importance of safeguarding every American’s right to have our voices heard and our votes counted.