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A voter enters a booth at a polling place in Exeter, N.H., on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2016. (AP/Elise Amendola) A voter enters a booth at a polling place in Exeter, N.H., on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2016. (AP/Elise Amendola)

A voter enters a booth at a polling place in Exeter, N.H., on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2016. (AP/Elise Amendola)

Haley BeMiller
By Haley BeMiller October 9, 2020

U.S. Rep. Grothman off base with claim that COVID bill strips states' right to administer elections

If Your Time is short

  • Legislation passed by House Democrats would require states to make changes to how they conduct federal elections, including rules for absentee and early voting.

  • But states would still have the right and responsibility to administer elections.

  • What’s more, this is not the first time Congress has proposed or implemented changes to the voting system.

Congress is fighting once again over the best way to provide relief to Americans as the coronavirus continues to infect people across the country and clobber the economy. 


House Democrats passed a $2.2 trillion relief package on Oct. 1, 2020, that would provide another round of enhanced unemployment benefits and stimulus checks, as well as support for schools and businesses. 

The vote came amid frayed talks with the White House and just hours before President Donald Trump announced he had tested positive for COVID-19. (Trump has since called the talks off, then suggested he wanted to continue negotiations)

Republican U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, who voted against the House stimulus package, characterized the legislation in an Oct. 4, 2020, newsletter as a "partisan spending bill" and pointed to several provisions he deemed "egregious."

One of them: The bill, he said, "strips states of their right to administer elections." 

Is Grothman right? 

What the bill says

When asked for evidence to support Grothman’s claim, a spokesman referred PolitiFact Wisconsin to several provisions in the bill related to elections.

Among them:

  • States would be required to create contingency plans for federal elections in the event of an emergency or natural disaster and update that plan at least every five years. States that don’t meet those requirements could face civil action from the attorney general.

  • States must provide early voting at least 15 days before an election and allow voting to occur at least 10 hours each day.

  • They would not be permitted to require identification to obtain an absentee ballot or require a witness signature for an absentee ballot to be counted.

  • Election officials would be required to accept ballots mailed on or before Election Day and received within 10 days after the election.

  • States that require voter identification at the polls would have to give voters the opportunity to provide a signed statement attesting to their identity. 

Democrats first introduced these requirements, dubbed the American Coronavirus/COVID-19 Election Safety and Security Act, as part of the HEROES Act they unsuccessfully pushed earlier this year.

"I’d also like to add that states may already have some of these same procedures in place," Grothman spokesman Timothy Svoboda said in an email to PolitiFact Wisconsin. "However, that does not change the fact that the authority would now be at the federal level."

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Barry Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said he thinks under the measure states could tailor the rules to their own needs, but noted the bill is a "pretty substantial involvement of the federal government."

"In some other states, it would require a significant change of their laws," he said

That said, the measure doesn’t tackle some key aspects of the voting system, such as residency requirements or who can work at the polls.

And the measure would only apply to federal elections, which occur in November every two years. States could still create their own rules for local elections.

The rights of states

Who’s really in charge of elections, anyway?

The U.S. Constitution says state legislatures can prescribe the "times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives," but goes on to give Congress the ability to make or alter such rules. According to an analysis of the clause, Congress’ primary duty is to uphold the integrity of the election process and right to vote. 

"States, territories, and the District of Columbia have primary responsibility for administering elections in the United States, but Congress retains authority over the time, place, and manner of federal elections," states a July 16, 2020 memo from the Congressional Research Service.

The memo goes on to say that Congress could consider expanded mail voting requirements in response to the coronavirus pandemic, but noted that "states, territories, and the District of Columbia … might reject new federal requirements as an infringement on their authority to conduct elections or new funding that comes attached to such requirements."

Burden said Congress has taken a larger role in federal elections over time, often to provide a more uniform voting experience and protect vulnerable groups. 

The Help America Vote Act, for example, created mandates for voting equipment and required states to implement a computerized voter registration list, among other provisions.

Still, Burden said, "states will always run their elections."

Let’s return to Grothman’s claim, that the measure "strips states of their right to administer elections." 

Merriam-Webster defines "administer" as "to manage or supervise the execution, use, or conduct of."

Nothing about the House-passed legislation takes away the ability of states to administer elections. Grothman may oppose the proposed requirements, but suggesting states will lose that right and responsibility is simply not accurate. 

Our ruling

In a newsletter, Grothman said a newly approved coronavirus relief package "strips states of their right to administer elections."

The legislation would create a new baseline for how states conduct federal elections, including rules for absentee and early voting, and outlines several requirements that some states don’t currently have in place. But states would still be responsible for administering elections.

What’s more, this is far from the first time Congress has considered measures to make the voting process more uniform. 

We rate this claim False. 

Our Sources

 

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U.S. Rep. Grothman off base with claim that COVID bill strips states' right to administer elections

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