By ALAN FRAM and CHRISTINA A. CASSIDY Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats want to bolster mail-in voting and take other steps to make balloting easier this November in the next round of congressional efforts to revive the economy and battle the coronavirus pandemic, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday.
Pelosi's still-evolving proposals drew immediate condemnation from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, echoing President Donald Trump's opposition to federal attempts to prod states to relax restrictions for this fall's presidential and congressional elections.
The discord underscored that a partisan battle over voting restrictions could complicate Congress' next attempt to prop up the stalled economy and deluged health care providers.
The virus' continued threat has prompted worries that in-person balloting could be hazardous. Residents of much of the country are under orders to stay home and avoid crowds to slow the disease's spread.
"Why should we be saying to people, 'Stand in line for hours,' when we don't even want you leaving the house?" Pelosi told reporters.
Democrats also want extended registration periods and additional money to help states expand voting systems. Pelosi didn't specify an amount to reporters Thursday, but suggested $2 billion in a conference call this week with House Democrats, said a Democratic aide who described the conversation on condition of anonymity.
In a separate call, McCarthy told reporters he saw no reason to change election law now. Citing the widespread illness, death and unemployment stemming from the virus, he accused Pelosi of trying to leverage the pandemic to advance her party's agenda.
"You want to hold a bill up because you want to change election law in November, that somehow you think that gives you benefit? That's disgusting," he said.
Like Trump, McCarthy suggested that voting by mail would be subject to fraud. Experts have said vote fraud of any type is extremely rare.
Trump has warned that Republicans would "never" be elected again if Democrats succeeded in broadening mail-in and absentee voting.
Republicans are "afraid of the voice of the people," Pelosi said. "And that's one of the reasons they want to stand in the way of a more open democratic system at a time of a pandemic."
Republicans have also argued that the federal government should not interfere with state election laws.
The battle is expected to be waged mostly on a sweeping bill — at least weeks away — that would build on the $2.2 trillion package enacted last month. It is funneling $2.2 trillion to large and small businesses, most individuals, state and local governments and the health care system.
Separately, state officials from both parties told reporters that Congress should provide more money and remove a required 20% match for states to receive shares of the $400 million Washington has already provided in election assistance. Some states have indicated they will have difficulty providing matching funds as their revenues have declined amid the pandemic.
Democrats want to drop the requirement for state matching funds as part of a now-stalled interim bill aiding small businesses and perhaps others. It's unclear whether the effort to remove that condition will succeed.
The state election officials were divided along party lines, though, over whether the federal government should also push states to send ballots to all registered voters and provide early voting opportunities.
Democrats in Congress have been pushing for ballots to be mailed to every registered voter for the November election. Republicans have expressed little desire to require states to make any changes to their election process.
The $400 million for states' election security, part of the $2.2 trillion stimulus package, was a fraction of what Democrats and some election experts have said is needed to accomplish a more ambitious overhaul of state voting systems before November.
Expanded early voting and mail-in ballots for all voters have been longtime Democratic goals.
Officials across the country are dealing with unprecedented disruptions that the virus outbreak has caused for primary elections this spring, At least 17 states have pushed back their presidential primaries.