On Monday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled House Democrats' stimulus package to battle the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which, critically, includes funding for states to carry out a mandate to ensure America can still hold its November elections as scheduled in a safe manner.
Democrats' proposal includes $4 billion in funding—double the minimum necessary as estimated by the Brennan Center—and a requirement that states offer 15 days of in-person early voting, remove any excuse requirement to vote absentee by mail, and mail every registered voter a ballot in case of an emergency like the current one. Additionally, the bill mandates that online and same-day voter registration be made available in every state.
Election experts have widely recommended that Congress use its authority to immediately require and fund the switch to extensive voting by mail (at least in federal elections) as a way to guarantee that elections still go forward and are conducted in a manner that minimizes potential exposure to the virus among voters and election workers. However, it will take time, effort, and organization to ensure that states can effectively implement such policies, and related measures will be necessary to ensure mail voting doesn’t disenfranchise anyone, which is why Congress must act as soon as possible.
Congressional Republicans have long been hostile to voting rights, and it's likely that they will oppose any efforts to make it easier to vote. But by making these provisions emergency measures rather than permanent laws, Democrats can demonstrate to the public that they are acting in good faith and not taking advantage of a crisis for alleged partisan gain.
Furthermore, because Republican-leaning states are least likely to make it easy to vote by mail as shown on the map at the top of this post (see here for a larger version), and because the GOP's elderly voter base is most at risk of serious illness, it's in Republicans’ own interest to ensure that voters have alternatives to in-person voting this year. Indeed, even Republicans in states such as Ohio and Indiana have called for a switch to mail voting.
Regardless, Democrats must make these voting provisions a red line that cannot be crossed when it comes to supporting a stimulus package. With the economy in free fall and Trump's re-election chances dropping along with it, Republicans realize that it's in their immediate partisan interests to stabilize our economic situation. Because of that, Democrats hold tremendous leverage.
Democrats must therefore hold the line and demand that any further stimulus measures include these voting provisions to ensure our elections go on. Donald Trump lacks the power to postpone the November elections, but they could become a catastrophe if millions of voters are unable to vote. As Congress fights our public health and economic crises, it must also act to avert a constitutional crisis as well.