WASHINGTON -- The elections chief in the Detroit suburb of Rochester Hills, Michigan, a competitive softball player in her younger days, feels like she's been pushed back into the batting cage. This time, nobody is giving Tina Barton a bat.
"It is like I am just standing there without anything to hit the balls back," Barton said. "Every day I step in, and something new is coming at me at high speed."
Poll workers quitting. A churn of court decisions throwing election rules into tumult. A COVID-19 outbreak at City Hall that could sideline her department at a critical moment.
The viral pandemic has put the nation's election system under a level of stress with little precedent.
And, although figures in both parties rejected President Donald Trump's suggestion of postponing the November election when he flirted with the idea Thursday, they haven't provided the money that officials like Barton need to get ready for it.
The House months ago approved $3.6 billion to aid local and state elections officials in dealing with an expected flood of mail-in ballots this fall, something that threatens to overwhelm elections officials in states where voting by mail is a relative novelty. The money has stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate -- part of the larger stalemate over a new round of help for people and businesses devastated by the economic impact of the pandemic.
President Donald Trump on Thursday suggested delaying the November election as he continued to raise the false specter of widespread voting fraud.
"Elections officials need that money yesterday," said Justin Levitt, an associate dean at Loyola Law School who worked on voting rights enforcement at the Justice Department during the Obama administration. Considering the trillions Congress is spending to shore up the economy and public institutions, it is bewildering that lawmakers are balking at the few billion needed to keep elections functional, he said.
Voting by mail works smoothly in states, mostly in the West, that have had years to hone their procedures. But in places that are now hurriedly trying to improvise, problems became clear during primary elections this spring and summer. Administrative dysfunction and fights over voting rules left tens of thousands -- predominantly voters of color -- disenfranchised as voting systems buckled under the strain.
"I fear we are bracing for disaster unless there is intervention by Congress and states are given the resources they need to get this right," said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.