As many states, including Maine, prepare to hold their spring — and now summer — primary elections, Congress is weighing another round of relief funding to help them pay for safety equipment and other voting expenses created by the coronavirus pandemic.
When members of Congress talk about safety at polling places, they often cite the example of one state in particular, where the governor’s postponement of the April primary was reversed by a court, and dozens of poll workers were infected with COVID-19.
“What we really don’t want is a repeat of what we saw in Wisconsin, where people literally had to choose between taking a disease risk or exercising their right to vote,” said U.S. independent Sen. Angus King.
King said it is not known how many voters may have also contracted the virus, but he said that the government has a responsibility to limit the risks on election day. Several advocacy groups are urging an array of safety measures, including postage-paid absentee ballots for every registered voter, online voter registration, personal protective equipment for poll workers and disinfection polling booths after every voter.
Anna Kellar is with the League of Women Voters.
“Some of these are things we already have in Maine, and some of them are things we need,” said Kellar. “But to states all around the country, and for voters all across the country, these of course are really essential.”
Congress has already appropriated $400 million for distribution to the states to address additional election costs. But states are required to put up 20 percent of the total grant amount, at a time when state and municipal governments are losing tax revenues. All four members of the Maine’s Congressional delegation say they support eliminating the match, but there is no agreement on how much more money will be needed. The House has supported $4 billion in additional aid, but U.S. Republican Sen. Susan Collins said the final number is up for negotiation.
“That would be part of the package of state and municipal aid,” she said.
In a statement, Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District said he supports eliminating the state match. Fellow House Democrat Chellie Pingree supported the $4 billion proposal, but said she is not sure that will be enough.
“Whatever is in the next package, the Democrats are going to ask for both the elimination of that match and a much higher funding level,” Pingree said.
Maine’s allocation of the first election aid is just under $4 million, with the state match at more than $650,000. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said he would like to implement many of the changes proposed by advocates, but is not sure the money will be there to pay for them.