U.S. Senate should adequately fund elections infrastructure


This summer, a committee in the U.S. House of Representatives advanced a budget with $400 million in funds to state and local election departments. This is both a sign of progress and not nearly enough. As the chief elections official in Denver, where we have a global reputation for doing elections right, I am fortunate to be well-resourced due in part to an election failure 15 years ago where lack of resources played a role. But I know not every state and local department is so fortunate. That is why federal funding is so important.

Today, Denver voters enjoy a truly voter-centric elections model that makes it so simple they don’t even have to get out of their vehicles to cast their ballot. We mail a ballot to every eligible voter and give them multiple options to return them. Voters can mail them back, bring them to a Vote Center with a drive-through ballot drop-off or return them to one of the 42 ballot drop-off boxes located throughout the City and County of Denver.

President Biden wisely proposed $2 billion for election administration in his most recent budget, a down payment on $10 billion over 10 years. This is the scale of funding election departments need from the federal government to support truly secure and inclusive elections nationwide.

Let’s discuss infrastructure in the literal sense.

Mail ballots require lots of space to process them. In order to provide physical distancing for our election judges during the height of the Covid pandemic, we had to expand our ballot preparation area into our main lobby which used to serve as our main vote center.

Even in a decently resourced elections office like ours, we must store the printers that we use to print out ballots for those who choose to vote in person in our lobby and hallways.

Denver is a proud Section 203 County under the U.S. Voting Rights Act so all our election materials including ballots must be provided in English and Spanish. We also provide sample ballots in five other languages and are happy to do so.

In addition, Colorado voters have the right to initiate questions to the ballot through the petition process.

For these reasons, in general elections we often have a three-card, double-sided ballot, which impacts our budget due to printing and paper costs. We receive nominal reimbursement when there are state ballot questions or school district candidates on our ballot but the reimbursement doesn’t come close to covering our costs.

One of my top priorities after taking office was creating a community engagement team, despite pushback and skepticism. Three years later, many other government agencies are now following suit. Many prospective voters don’t have reliable internet access at home or work, so we use a number of ways to distribute information about voting. With the ongoing false 2020 election narrative and the threats created by misinformation and disinformation, a strong investment like the one proposed by President Biden can mean additional resources to elections administrators for community engagement to help us maintain an informed electorate.

The House has started the process with funding for election departments. I hope that as the Senate works on the budget, it will increase that funding number and fund elections administration like the critical infrastructure that it is. Our democracy depends on it.

Paul López is Denver’s clerk and recorder. In that role, he is Denver’s chief elections official. 

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