Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer said Wednesday that the county was given a total just over $1 million in funds from the CARES Act and the county to spend on ensuring safe elections in August and November. However, he’s not sure he can stretch that funding far enough to cover all that’s needed for protection against coronavirus spreading on Election Day.
“We’re going to go through that million pretty quick,” Latimer said.
The CARES Act appropriated $400 million in emergency funds to allow states to create a safe environment for the 2020 election. Florida was allocated $20.3 million, and counties were required to match 20% of what they received to support election efficiency.
The Senate Rules Committee hearing Wednesday reviewed efforts to ensure safe elections, such as increased mail-in ballots and ballot drop-off bins as well as more protective gear at polling places for voters and poll workers.
Latimer said in an interview that his office has spent the money on additional envelopes to meet the increased demand to vote by mail, as well as cleaning supplies and protective equipment for volunteers at polling sites. They’ve also added printers for Ballot on Demand, which allows ballots to be printed on the spot as voters arrive, meaning less people touch the physical ballot.
Testifying at the Senate hearing Kristen Clarke, president of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said Congress should provide another $3.6 billion to ensure communities are prepared for the election. She said the money would be used towards open access to absentee ballots, early voting and creating a safe environment in precincts. Clarke based this number off an assessment completed by the Brennan Center for Justice.
“No one should ever have to choose between their health and their ability to exercise their right to vote,” Clarke said. “Ensuring access to the ballot during a pandemic is a common sense principle that enjoys bipartisan support.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the top Democrat on the committee, noted that 57% of Republicans in Florida used mail in voting compared to 41% of Democrats. She also said the Republican Party in Florida sent a mailer to encourage voters to request an absentee ballot. She referred to President Donald Trump’s assertions that mail-in ballots lead to fraud, noting that the mailer has an image of a tweet from the president that begins saying absentee ballots are fine but then it blurs out the rest of the tweet where he attacks voting by mail.
“I wanted to bring that up, not because I want to be partisan, but because I think it’s really important for people to understand how untrue these allegations are about voting by mail,” said Klobuchar.
Tennessee’s Secretary of State Tre Hargett told the committee that “fear of contracting the coronavirus is not an excuse” for providing voters in his state with mail-in ballots, saying it’s not listed in the 14 accepted excuses Tennessee voters can use to submit absentee ballots.
“Well, that’s pitiful,” Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said.