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Election Protection Officials Say They’re Basically Broke Just in Time cor the Vote

Election Protection Officials Say They’re Basically Broke Just in Time cor the Vote

Asked in a recent interview how things were going as Election Day draws near, a state elections director paused, searching for the right words.

“I feel like I’ve got democracy in a boat,” the director told The Daily Beast, “and my staff is bailing water out while people are drilling holes in it.”

That official, who spoke anonymously to discuss the situation candidly, sums up how many election officials around the country are feeling right now. In normal times, they’re a group of professionals used to getting the job done with what meager funds they typically get—proud of it, even.

Few, however, have seen a year so challenging to the basic functions of democracy as 2020. In a matter of months, the coronavirus pandemic has totally reshaped the way Americans vote. Attacks on the process have increased, with President Donald Trump leading the way by characterizing COVID-era changes—such as expanded vote-by-mail—as tantamount to a Democratic-led ploy to steal the election from him. Election budgets, meanwhile, are endangered as the state and local governments that fund election budgets scramble to cover massive shortfalls as the economy ground to a standstill.

Yet there’s more work than ever for elections officials to do. They’re funding awareness campaigns to inform people how to vote, finding new spaces for in-person voting, expanding mail voting and tracking down personal protective equipment for election workers.

In March, Washington signaled it was ready to aid this herculean task: $400 million of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act was earmarked for election support grants, to be shared by the states, territories, and the District of Columbia. That money got used up, and fast, in many places.

And not a dollar has come from Congress since, leaving elections officials in a familiar place—doing their best with what they have—but under the unfamiliar conditions of an unprecedented pandemic that’s seen the integrity of the vote questioned in new ways.

Leaders in the field stress that they’ll be able to get the job done no matter what. “We’re famous for contingency planning,” said Christopher Piper, the commissioner of elections for Virginia. “We could do more with more. That said, we feel well prepared for this election.”

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