States Turn to Election Security Funds to Cover COVID-19 Costs

Some cash-strapped states are dipping into the election security funds provided to them by the massive federal stimulus package to help cover the costs of responding to the COVID-19 public health crisis.

The $2.2 trillion aid bill, designed to keep the economy afloat amid the COVID-19 pandemic, contains $400 million to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally, for the 2020 Federal election cycle.” The Election Assistance Commission will administer the grants.

According to The Hill:

Pennsylvania, Ohio, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Tennessee, and Alabama have either used or intend to these funds, as the pandemic continues to plague the country, ABC News reports.

“We are assessing all election security and administration needs and will allocate accordingly,” Wanda Murren, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania secretary of State, told the network.

“We do foresee using some of that at least while the new coronavirus comes in,” Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea also said. “Our election system was geared towards a precinct-based voting majority, now we are going to have to centralize all of those operations.”

As previously reported on Conduit Street, Governor Larry Hogan ordered the special general election to fill the late Rep. Elijah Cummings’s congressional seat in Maryland’s Seventh District be conducted via mail. Hogan also postponed Maryland’s presidential primary due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.

As health officials warn that social distancing and other measures to contain the COVID-19 epidemic might be in place months, the Maryland State Board of Elections (SBE) voted to ban any in-person voting for the special general election on April 28 and last week submitted a proposal to Governor Hogan that includes limited in-person voting for the June 2 presidential primary election.

Maryland, which is expected to receive approximately $7.4 million for coronavirus-related election security, has not signaled that it will use the funds for other purposes. However, some states have said that they now have to choose between ensuring a safe election and purchasing essential medical supplies like personal protective equipment and ventilators to spend their money.

According to ABC News:

The National Association of Secretaries of State gave every state guidelines on how to properly secure their elections, but has noted that how each state spends its money during an emergency is up to them.

“As with any federal funds, states have questions about how they can be used, timing and other logistics, and are looking to the federal government for guidance on these issues,” a spokesperson for the group told ABC News. “I would defer to states on their specific plans for spending their portion of the money.

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The Hill: States turn to election security funds to pay off coronavirus costs

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Feds Reach Deal on $2 Trillion Stimulus Package: What It Means for Counties

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