July 22, 2020
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) pressed state election officials and election rights experts on the importance of taking steps to support and defend U.S. elections in advance of the 2020 election. During the hearing, Senator King hammered home the need to help Americans identify attempts by foreign actors to interfere in our election process, and he pushed officials on the steps needed to help make sure Americans are able to safely and securely exercise their right to votes during the coronavirus pandemic.
During the hearing, Senator King touched upon:
The need to defend against foreign interference:
“I’ve spent the last eight years – well almost eight years – on the Intelligence Committee, and the last four years intensively studying Russian interference in the election of 2016 I can assure you that the Russians are going to try – and are trying – to interfere in the election of 2020, it’s probable that the Chinese will. It’s likely that the Iranians will, and possible that the North Koreans will. And the problem with this challenge that we face is -- and that goes to all of you that are working in the administration of our elections – is that they don’t have to change votes. All they have to do is sow doubt. Doubt is the dagger at the heart of democracy – if people doubt election results, then people doubt the fairness of elections. And that’s a very high standard to meet and I think that we just have to be thinking about it as we approach all of these issues.”
Dangers of online voting:
“I just spent a year with the National Cyberspace Solarium Commission on cyberthreats to elections and other parts of our society, and there is no safe online voting system. There is none – I have not seen any evidence of a safe online voting system. I’ve seen lots of evidence to the contrary. So to the extent that those are used to enable those who otherwise couldn’t vote to do so, we need to be exceedingly careful about how they relate to the rest of the voting system, whether someone can use an online voting system for the disabled for example to get into the rest of the voting system get into the voter data. So I think those are matters of exceedingly important concern.”
Providing additional funding for election support:
“We do have to supply resources [to support elections] – or don’t have to but should. And if we don’t, particularly in light of the COVID emergency, we are failing our responsibility and failing our voters. Ms. Clark, you talked about long lines. Often those long lines are in neighborhoods of color. And where you place your voting places are important these kinds of decisions are absolutely critical. But it’s my belief – and I don’t know what the right number is - but it’s my belief that there is a need for additional support for simply PPE, for an election person. For other techniques, for keeping the clerk’s office open for more early voting, all of those things are really critical.”
Support for the U.S. Postal Service:
“A third place, where it seems to me, Mr. Chairmen, we really have a responsibility based upon all the testimony we’ve had today, is the post office. There was 10 billion dollars in the CARES act as a loan to the post office. To my knowledge it has not happened. And yet the post office is facing imminent insolvency. September is a date that I’ve seen. Given that there are now nine states that predominately vote by mail, and many others who will see a great deal of additional voting by mail, we have to provide them with the infrastructure that votes by mail can be counted! Now if the post office can’t process those and one of our secretaries of state said it has to be in by Election Day, Well what if they can’t physically meet that? Those people are disenfranchised. So Mr. Chairman, I feel that’s something we really have to attend to and we can’t just skirt around the issue of support for the post office because the President doesn’t like their package rates. This is a matter of fundamental access to the ballot box for the people of America and if the post office can’t get the ballots to the clerks then they are being disenfranchised.”
Senator King closed the hearing by pressing Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett on the state’s opposition to allowing voters to cite the risk of coronavirus when seeking an absentee ballot:
King: Mr. Hargett, I’m sort of astounded by your testimony. You’re telling me that a citizen of Tennessee, who is concerned about the coronavirus, which – by the way, your state is number eleven in the country in cases per 100,000 people – that’s not a “excuse”? I don’t know why you’d need an excuse to vote, but you’re saying someone can’t say ‘I don’t want to stand in line for two hours with several hundred other people, and protect my health? That that’s not good enough in your state? Is that what you’re telling me, Mr. Hargett?
Hargett: Under Tenessee law, fear contracting the coronavirus is not an excuse.
King: Well, that’s pitiful.
Senator King’s questioning today came during the a hearing of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which featured testimony from Kristen Clarke, President And Executive Director, National Lawyers' Committee For Civil Rights Under Law; Rick Stream, Republican Director Of Elections, St. Louis County, Missouri; Mac Warner, Secretary Of State, West Virginia; and Tre Hargett, Secretary Of State, Tennessee.
Since the coronavirus crisis began, Senator King has pushed his colleagues to act to prepare America’s states and localities for the 2020 election in the event that normal voting processes are not compatible with public health guidance. Earlier this year, Senator King participated in a tele-town hall hosted by the Maine League of Women Voters to discuss the importance of proactively preparing to adjust electoral processes to ensure that states and localities can hold elections without putting voters or poll workers at risk of exposure to coronavirus. Following Senator King’s advocacy efforts, the CARES ACT included $400 million to support election assistance for the 2020 elections; he has also joined a group of his colleagues urging that an additional $3.6 billion for election assistance to be included in a future coronavirus response package.
Senator King has consistently focused on helping more Americans access their right to vote and protecting the integrity of our elections. He is a cosponsor of the Voting Rights Act, and this week he wrote an op-ed in TIME Magazine calling for the American public to be informed in real-time of foreign interference in American elections. Senator King is a cosponsor of the Stopping Harmful Interference in Elections for a Lasting Democracy (SHIELD) Act and the Election Security Act which would require voter-verifiable backup paper ballots and provide election security grants to states for cyber improvements and audits. During a Senate Rules Committee hearing in May 2019, Senator King questioned the four members of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission about the agency’s role in ensuring the security of America’s elections, and expressed his deep concern about the lack of resources devoted to the agency during a time when our elections have been targeted by foreign powers.