'US fumbling coronavirus response through wilful ignorance'
Washington – The US had fumbled its response to the coronavirus outbreak through "wilful ignorance", threatening the economy and raising concerns about the fairness and integrity of November's election, said voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams yesterday.
Abrams, a Democrat and former leader in Georgia's state legislature, said President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans have refused to acknowledge the threat posed by the pandemic.
"One of the deep disappointments of the current administration is their wilful ignorance and their willingness to ignore the challenges that present themselves in real time," Abrams said in a virtual Reuters Newsmaker event.
Abrams, who was considered a possible running mate for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden at one time, said the US needs to show the world it had the competency to deal with its response to the coronavirus.
"We currently are failing that test," she said.
She called on Trump and Republicans to fund more than $3 billion (R52.1bn) for assistance to state election officials in the coronavirus relief bill being negotiated in the US Senate, and rejected Trump's frequent suggestions that mail-in voting was prone to fraud.
Trump, who trails Biden in opinion polls, has raised questions about the integrity of the election.
He has repeatedly said that without evidence that voting by mail would lead to rampant fraud, and last week he suggested delaying the November 3 election due to the likelihood of fraud, though he does not have the authority to do so.
Election experts say voter fraud of any kind, including incidents related to mail-in ballots, was rare
"Voter fraud is not the issue. Voter suppression is the issue," Abrams said.
She said the election funding would help state officials deal with an expected crush of mail-in ballots, as well as provide adequate polling sites for in-person Election Day voting to resolve some of the problems seen in recent primaries in Wisconsin, Georgia and elsewhere.
"The United States knows how to run elections, we just have to agree to do it properly," she said. "Our bottom line is we have to have a full tool box of methods of voting."
Abrams, who supports voting by mail as a way to protect voters during the coronavirus pandemic, formed a voting rights group, Fair Fight, after narrowly losing her 2018 bid in Georgia to become the country's first black female governor.
She accused Republican opponent Brian Kemp of voter suppression after he refused to resign as the state's top elections officer while campaigning for governor.
The racial and social justice protests in American streets following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, under the knee of a white police officer has put a spotlight on the importance of Black voters this year.
The first dip in black voter turnout in 20 years contributed to Democrat Hillary Clinton's upset loss to Trump four years ago.