Davis Delivers Opening Statement at Hearing on Impact of COVID-19 on Elections

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WASHINGTON – Committee on House Administration Ranking Member Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) delivered the following statement during a Subcommittee on Elections hearing titled, “The Impact Of COVID-19 On Voting Rights And Election Administration: Ensuring Safe And Fair Elections.”

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The Impact Of COVID-19 On Elections

Davis’ remarks as prepared for delivery:

As a nation we are facing a number of crises, and not just related to the COVID-19 and elections. It is more critical than ever that our electoral systems are efficient, trustworthy, and secure. As a Subcommittee, we have the opportunity today to do the work the American people demand of us. I am committed, as I have always been, to ensuring every eligible American is able to freely vote. But I cannot surrender or dilute the sanctity of a single vote for changes in our laws that risk undermining the integrity of our elections. Unfortunately, I believe many of the changes proposed by the majority this Congress would do just that.

Today, as we explore how the coronavirus has and will continue to impact election administration, we must note that many of the changes proposed by the majority were proposed prior to the coronavirus. H.R. 1, for instance, included same-day registration, required early voting, vote by mail expansion, and required the counting of provisional ballots; all items that Speaker Pelosi has once again put forward. Some of the proposals recently put forth have nothing to do with limiting the spread of the virus. For example, allowing unlimited ballot harvesting would likely have the opposite effect by placing ballot brokers in the living rooms of voters. Other ideas may have merit and I welcome the opportunity to explore these at this hearing.

When it comes to issues of election administration, I believe I have proven to be pragmatic and willing to listen to reason. For instance, when the National Association of Secretaries of State raised concerns over federally appropriated funds in the CARES Act, I sent a letter to Chairperson Lofgren expressing my willingness to explore their concerns. I have also put forward my own ideas about how to reform the elections process. I have introduced four separate pieces of legislation meant to strengthen, not only our elections, but also the American public’s faith in them. If there is a way to strengthen our democracy at the federal level, without trampling the rights of our states, I am all for it.

However, I want to be very clear about my policy priorities, which are informed by the work of this committee over the last 18 months. First, live ballots should not be mailed to those who didn’t request one. This is especially true in states like California where voter registration lists have not been maintained, leading to situations like in Los Angeles county where potentially 1.5 million ineligible voters sit on the rolls. Second, we must not allow nationwide, unlimited ballot harvesting. And finally, we must not allow ballots returned or post marked after Election Day to be counted, nor must we allow ballots returned before Election Day to be counted early. These proposals risk the integrity of our elections process and are frankly, irresponsible.  If we can move past these items, then Madame Chair, you will find a willing partner in me.

Priorities For The 2020 General Election

The question then is, where do we begin? Heading into the 2020 general election I have three priorities. One, all voters who choose to vote in person must be able to do so safely. I believe the funds included in the CARES Act have, and will, go a long way in this effort. Two, states that wish to expand their vote-by-mail and absentee operations must do so without sacrificing the security of the vote. This must include voter list maintenance; this one requirement, if enforced, could dramatically reduce the time many voters have to spend in line and significantly reduce the number of personnel needed to administer an election. And three, states and the federal government must work together to ensure the American public view the 2020 election with legitimacy.

Critical to all three of these priorities is vote-by-mail. I support states that are taking steps to increase their capacity for mail-in voting. But to presume that every state should, or even can, dramatically increase this capacity is ridiculous.

Many states, including two represented today, had less than 4% of voters participate in the last election through casting an absentee ballot. To ask that they move to a primarily vote-by-mail system prior to November would be to ignore the realities of election administration and the very real lack of equipment to make such a transition, some of which takes months to manufacture and deliver.

Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security has warned states against reducing in-person voting locations in favor of vote-by-mail as it could have a dramatic effect on voter access, lines, and congestion. This is exactly what happen in Milwaukee where in-person voting locations were reduced from over a hundred, to just five.

Further, to ask state populations who have never voted by mail before to suddenly do so, with little to no public education, would disenfranchise these voters. Election officials reject almost 2 percent of ballots cast by mail for a variety of reasons, this is double the rate for in-person voting. If we want to talk voting rights, that is a voting rights issue.

While I do not have the time to discuss every policy proposal, I want to reiterate that our effort cannot, and will not, end here today. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses. I yield back.

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