Steil: Where was the outrage when Democrat-run cities closed hundreds of polling places in 2020 primaries?
Committee on House Administration Election Subcommittee Ranking Member Bryan Steil (R-Wis.) delivered this opening statement at today's hearing on polling locations. Steil calls out Democrats for having selective outrage when it comes to states and localities making changes to polling locations and offers solutions, that do not include nationalizing our elections, to help states extend voting hours and locations.
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Text of Steil’s prepared remarks:
I start out nearly all hearings reminding folks that we saw historic turnout in the 2018 and 2020 elections. More people voted in the 2018 midterms than in any other midterm election. More people voted in 2020 than ever before. I say this because, for years, the rhetoric, which is getting louder, has been that Republicans are trying to suppress the vote. In fact, it’s been suggested at each hearing this subcommittee has held. It’s Democrats’ justification for H.R. 1 and for S. 1. This assertion is just not true.
Today’s hearing focuses on the effect of polling location closures. Unfortunately, in 2020, we did see polling location closures. However, it might surprise my colleagues that many of these closures were done in Democrat areas where the elections are administered largely by Democrats. These closures likely occurred to push mail-in voting without common-sense safeguards.
Let’s review 8 cities or counties where elections were administered by Democrats or Democratic appointees. In my home state, Wisconsin, the City of Milwaukee reduced polling locations from 180 to just five for the 2020 primary.
Fulton County, Georgia, which includes the City of Atlanta and is home to 11% of the state’s population, only opened five early voting locations during the primary election. In Harris County, Texas, home to one of the fastest growing cities in the country, Houston, voters reported waiting upwards of six hours to vote in the primary election due to poll closures. LA County closed more than thirty-five hundred voting locations for its primary, reducing the county’s poll locations to just 978 for a county whose population is nearly double the entire state of Wisconsin. In New York City, not only were polling places reduced for the primary election, but some didn’t open on time and locations were changed just hours before voters showed up to vote. Washington, DC went from 143 polling locations to just 20 for its primary. Chicago had reports of multiple polling location closures. Philadelphia County reduced polling locations by 77 percent for their June 2nd primary. The list goes on!
I ask my colleagues and mainstream media today: Where was the outrage from Democrats? Where were the oversight hearings then?
Democrats on this committee failed to hold hearings or conduct proper oversight. Republicans, however, sent oversight letters to each jurisdiction expressing concerns and requesting answers. I’d ask unanimous consent to insert these letters and their responses into the record.
Further, instead of improving voter confidence and addressing these issues, H.R. 1 would do the opposite. We’ll hear more from today’s witnesses about how H.R. 1 would nationalize all elections and centralize their administration in D.C., under Democratic control who has a history of closing polling locations, and removing key safeguards, like voter ID and list maintenance, that protect our elections and help to ensure voters are confident in the process and the results.
Last Congress, Republicans introduced legislation to help states ensure polling locations could remain open. The Emergency Assistance for Safe Elections Act, or the EASE Act, would have provided additional funding to help states and localities to help poll workers disinfect equipment for voting machines, purchase personal protective equipment for poll workers, and other items. The EASE Act would have also addressed an issue election administrators across the country struggle with: recruiting enough poll workers. The typical poll worker is 65 or older, which is the designated at-risk population for COVID. Even outside of the pandemic, recruiting poll workers has been increasingly difficult for election administrators.
The EASE Act would have provided funding to help states clean their voter registration rolls, which impact voter wait times. The more outdated the voter rolls, the longer it takes poll workers to find a voter in the system.
These are commonsense solutions that don’t involve a federal government takeover of our election system. Unfortunately, we never reviewed this bill in committee and Speaker Pelosi never brought the bill for a vote. I believe there are election administration solutions Democrats and Republicans could work on together, and I’m still hopeful that my colleagues on this committee will take me up on addressing some of them.
With that, I look forward to today’s discussion and I yield back.