Voting by mail has garnered greater attention in recent weeks, as the coronavirus pandemic has rendered in-person voting in upcoming primaries more dangerous. Voting rights activists have long argued in favor of bolstering states' capacity to implement mail-in voting, saying that it makes voting more accessible.
The progressive activist group Stand Up America is launching a new campaign to mobilize constituents to demand $4 billion in election assistance in the next coronavirus relief legislation. The campaign will be largely digital, reaching voters through text, email, and social media to drive thousands of constituent calls to the Senate.
In an interview with CBS News, the group's founder and president, Sean Eldridge, argued that it was important for the next coronavirus relief bill to tackle election assistance to give states more time to implement vote-by-mail measures ahead of the November election. If the stay-at-home orders are still in effect in several places by the fall, or the economy is only partially reopened, Eldridge said it would be safer to ensure vote-by-mail to every citizen.
Eldridge said that issues of health care, the economy, and voting reform were "intertwined," as easier access to voting affects who is elected.
"Obviously the pandemic is a threat to America's health, to our economic well-being, but it's also a threat to our democracy," Eldridge said. "We need to be able to exercise our right to vote."
Several states have delayed their primaries or scrapped in-person voting altogether. Ohio'searlier this week was conducted almost entirely vote-by-mail.
"We think $4 billion is a small price to pay to ensure that our democracy remains intact," Eldridge said.
The new Stand Up America campaign will also include a peer-to-peer texting campaign using the voter file to contact more than 75,000 constituents of certain key lawmakers, in addition to launching new digital ads, producing educational videos and hosting weekly press briefings with advocates of voting reform.
The campaign will particularly target constituents of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, House Assistant Speaker Ray Lujan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator Roy Blunt and Senator Lisa Murkowski, to encourage these voters to demand their lawmakers pass election assistance.
A spokesperson for Stand Up America confirmed the group expected to spend at least $100,000 on the campaign in the next month, in addition to the six-figures the group has spent since mid-March mobilizing constituents on the issue.
Eldridge is confident that election assistance will be included in the next legislative package, since Congress already allocated $400 million for this purpose in an earlier coronavirus relief bill. Since March, the group has also mobilized constituents to make 120,000 calls to lawmakers.
President Trump argues that voting by mail could harm Republicans' electoral prospects and lead to fraud. But electoral fraud is extremely rare, and studies have shown that there is little partisan advantage in implementing vote-by-mail. Utah, a conservative state, has voted entirely by mail-in ballot for several years. Casting a mail-in ballot also tends to make voting easier for rural and elderly voters, demographics which generally lean Republican.
"We cannot let Donald Trump's cynical, hypocritical attacks on vote by mail get in the way," Eldridge said, noting that Mr. Trump himself cast an absentee ballot this year.
Eldridge also pointed out that several people in Wisconsin had contracted the virus after voting in person in the state's primary election earlier this month, saying the state "forced them to make an unacceptable choice."
"I think vote by mail is life or death for some Americans," Eldridge said.