- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 1, 2021

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 would require states to have at least two weeks of early voting in an attempt to nationalize election standards. Liberal lawmakers say the requirement would 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 allowed 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 is enacted, that timeline would comply with the national standard.

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 would require early voting sites near public transportation and in rural areas.

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

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

The length of early voting, according to the NCSL, varies from 45 days before Election Day to just a few.

Georgia considered banning Sunday voting ahead of Election Day, but the legislature backed off with provisions approved last week. Its law permits early voting on weekends.

The Texas Senate advanced a bill Thursday that would place a limit on early voting hours and ban drive-through voting. That bill will go to the state 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 March 9 to block the Iowa law from going into effect. They argue that the law 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 law also makes the early voting time more uniform across Iowa’s 99 counties.

Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections for the liberal 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 counter efforts from Republican legislatures to limit access to 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 issues aside from the cost that they say raise concerns with prolonged periods of early voting.

Hans von Spakovsky, a former member of the Federal Election Commission and a 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 before late-breaking developments in contests.

States that offer voting as early as a month or so ahead of Election Day have ballots cast before all the debates are conducted and before any eleventh-hour developments that could affect voters’ decisions.

Critics of the proposed federal election law say it would upend states’ ability to control early voting and would dismantle their election systems, including voter rolls and 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 H.R. 1, formally called the For the People Act, last month. The Senate is conducting hearings on the bill, titled S. 1 in that chamber.

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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