Lofgren Opening Statement at Hearing about Voting Safely During the COVID-19 Pandemic
San Jose, Calif. – Committee on House Administration Chairperson Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) made the following remarks at the outset of today’s hearing, Voting Safely in a Pandemic:
“As we begin, we should take a moment to honor an important anniversary in our nation’s history. Fifty-seven years ago today, hundreds of thousands of Americans came to our nation’s capital for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
“Our beloved colleague and hero, the late Representative John Lewis, spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that day. He fearlessly challenged our country’s denial of freedom and civil rights to Black Americans—including the right to vote—a right that the Supreme Court more than 70 years earlier called “preservative of all rights.”
“Today, many people are gathering at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the march and continue demands for voting rights, racial equality, police accountability and criminal justice reform. Free and fair elections and unencumbered access to voting are the bedrock of our democracy. And yet today—during a global pandemic the likes of which our country has not experienced in more than a century—voters are worried about how to safely vote and how to navigate potential disruptions this November. Nearly half of Americans expect difficulties voting this fall, according to recent polling by the Pew Research Center. It does not have to be that way. No one should be forced to choose between their right to vote or their health.
“In June, Chairperson Fudge convened an important Subcommittee hearing to examine the impact of COVID-19 on voting rights and election administration. Tragically, since that hearing, an additional 3.6 million people have become infected in the United States and another 59,000 Americans have lost their lives to the disease. This crisis has devastated many families and disrupted our way of life. The virus will continue to affect how we live for the foreseeable future—including how we vote.
“I look forward to hearing more today from our experts about how people can vote safely during this pandemic.
“Americans have cast ballots during great strife and national emergencies before. Civil War soldiers voted by mail from the battlefields. Millions of women and men in uniform have voted by mail since then, including after Congress passed the 1942 Soldier Voting Act and the Federal Voting Assistance Act in 1955. References to civilian mail voting date to the late 1800s.
“This year, many states have changed their election procedures to make voting safer from a public health perspective. Although some voters in all 50 states can vote from home, the widest availability is for voters in 44 states and the District of Columbia who live in a “no-excuse” vote-by-mail state or where fear of COVID counts as a valid excuse this fall. Other Americans can choose to vote early in-person in one of 42 states that provide it. Early in-person voting helps keep polling places less crowded. Or voters can go to polling places on Election Day itself.
“Offering various methods of voting is consistent with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends “alternative voting methods that minimize direct contact and reduce crowd size at polling locations.”
“Voters should have the option to vote by mail or to vote in person—and it should be safe and accessible. The House passed reforms to make this possible 105 days ago in the Heroes Act—including $3.6 billion in funding to ease nationwide implementation. Unfortunately, Leader McConnell has refused to take up the legislation, choosing instead to delay and do nothing for months. The virus, however, has not delayed, nor has it simply “disappeared.” And, sadly, neither has the President’s disinformation campaign against voting—especially absentee voting.
“The President’s assault has now expanded to include even the United States Postal Service, a venerated and popular institution enshrined in our Constitution. Earlier this month, President Trump – as he is prone to do – said the quiet part out loud. He explicitly stated he opposes funding the Postal Service because the Postal Service facilitates voting by mail.
“Meanwhile, the Trump-appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy enacted disruptive operational policies that have caused days-long backlogs in mail delivery across the country—policies that impeded mail services to senior citizens, veterans, and the sick who depend on the Postal Service to deliver medications and other essentials—including ballots. I heard from thousands of my constituents whose mail was delayed – they were outraged. After much public outcry, Postmaster General DeJoy announced some of the policy changes would be paused until after the election. His reckless management of the Postal Service warrants close scrutiny and continued accountability.
“The House did its part on Saturday, passing the Delivering for America Act on a bipartisan basis to prohibit the Postal Service from implementing any further changes that will delay mail and reduce delivery standards. The bill would also require the Postal Service to treat all Election Mail as First Class Mail, as has been its practice for years. And it will provide the $25 billion in much needed funding that its Board of Governors – each appointed by President Trump himself – has requested. Still, the President continues to spread disinformation and outright lies about the safety and security of voting. They do not bear repeating at a Congressional hearing.
“What does bear repeating is the best way voters can stand up to bullies at the ballot box: make a plan to vote. Register to vote or confirm your registration and update it if necessary. Do that as soon as possible. Visit vote.gov for more information. Decide if you plan to vote in-person or by mail—research your options and follow those instructions carefully, including if you need to request a ballot. Request and cast your ballot early if you can. And if you are healthy and able, consider signing-up to work as a poll volunteer by going to HelpAmericaVote.gov. Many jurisdictions scrambled at the last minute to find poll workers this spring and summer—you can do your part by considering this public service.”
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