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Sixth Democratic Debate: What We’re Watching For

On December 19, seven Democratic presidential candidates will appear in the year’s final debate at Loyola Marymount University. Bipartisan Policy Center experts on election security, mental health, and more told us how they hope their key issues will be discussed on stage. For BPC’s previous pre-debate coverage, check out our posts from before the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth debates.

Here’s what BPC experts will be watching for as the candidates take the stage.

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Matthew Weil, director, Elections Project

Congress is set to send $425 million to the states to improve election administration, including to secure the voter registration databases and voting process. This tranche of money requires a 20% state match, which means that $510 million in taxpayer money will be dedicated to elections starting in 2020. How should it be spent to have impact in 2020 and to fortify elections for the future?

The are many priorities for this funding. First, federal policy should support paper-based voting systems with robust and auditable paper trails and require rigorous pre- and post-election audits of various aspects of the elections process. That means replacing outdated direct recording electronic voting machines, even though the level of funding being provided will not cover all costs for that. Second, states must find ways to funnel more of this funding to the front-line election administrators. The local administrator has the most control over securing the voting process and improving the voting experience. These administrators require resources to improve the quality of their office IT infrastructure, to train staff on cybersecurity best practices, and to purchase and maintain better voting systems that allow for the audits that increase public confidence in the legitimacy and accuracy of results.

Policymakers must define what “success” means for this large federal commitment to elections. The funding should improve confidence in the voting process, provide resiliency against interference, and modernize the technology used. However, too many already point to the relatively clean elections in 2018 as proof that the federal involvement in elections may be unnecessary going forward. That is a worrying development as adversaries continue to evolve; election administrators must too. Should federal election administration grants be predictable and consistent, which would give state and local election administrators more freedom to secure the voting process in 2020 without worrying about how commitments made in 2020 impact the future? Congress is providing the federal Election Assistance Commission a 40% increase in operating budget over last year. What should be the federal role in election administration and how can the EAC best have impact? What does the voting system of 2024 and 2028 look like and how can Congress help states in getting there? A long-term view of the American voting experience means our leaders must wrestle with these questions today.

What should be the federal role in election administration and how can the EAC best have impact? What does the voting system of 2024 and 2028 look like and how can Congress help states in getting there? A long-term view of the American voting experience means our leaders must wrestle with these questions today.
Matthew Weil, director, Elections Project

Bill Hoagland, senior vice president, and Anita Burgos, senior policy analyst

Last year, nearly 48 million Americans experienced either a mental health condition or substance use disorder (SUD), and 9.2 million endured both. Mental health and SUD encompass a wide range of conditions that, sadly, impact too many Americans across ages, geographical locations, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

While some of the presidential candidates have introduced health care plans, and others have sponsored legislation, there has not been a concerted effort to debate practical solutions to address the mental health and SUD crisis, aside from the need to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for the opioid epidemic. Candidates have not addressed how seniors covered by Medicare do not have access to adequate mental health benefits or face a lifetime limit on inpatient mental health care and lack of coverage for effective services, such as peer support. Instead, the Democratic candidates continue to battle over Medicare-for-all and Medicare buy-in proposals.

The moderators of Wednesday’s debate should use the opportunity to ask the candidates how their health care plans would curtail deaths by SUD and suicide, increase access to mental health services, and improve the integration of mental health, SUD, and primary care. There should also be substantive discussions around prevention, treatment, long-term recovery, sustainable funding, research, and stigma reduction.

People living with mental health conditions, their families and providers should also be given an opportunity to contribute to the upcoming debates. Some of the more specific issues that need be addressed include—how the candidates plan to tackle the rising suicide rates in youth, especially in the LGBTQ community, and with young people of color? What can be done to reduce post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide rates among veterans? What tools can effectively help with early detection, prevention, and intervention? The list of questions is long.

The moderators of Wednesday’s debate should use the opportunity to ask the candidates how their health care plans would curtail deaths by SUD and suicide, increase access to mental health services, and improve the integration of mental health, SUD, and primary care. There should also be substantive discussions around prevention, treatment, long-term recovery, sustainable funding, research, and stigma reduction.
Bill Hoagland, senior vice president, and Anita Burgos, senior policy analyst

BPC President Jason Grumet

Grumet’s comments come from the latest installment of The Good Fight, part of BPC Weekly, BPC’s newest podcast. Listen to the episode and find a link to subscribe here.

I would love to see presidential debates be on one topic. Take 90 minutes to talk about immigration, with President Trump and the Democratic nominee. I think not only would people learn more about that topic, but you’d actually start to get a sense of how these candidates think. The premise right now is that if you’re well-coached and you’re a decent politician, you can kind of sneak your soundbites in and answer questions but it’s impossible to really push somebody in that format. If there were a 90-minute debate on how to deal with the challenges of American workers, like housing and health care, that would reveal a lot more about the candidates. I’m not sure that kind of long-form television is selling lots of commercials these days, but that would be the most effective way, if the goal was to reveal something about how the candidates would govern.

If there were a 90-minute debate on how to deal with the challenges of American workers, like housing and health care, that would reveal a lot more about the candidates.
BPC President Jason Grumet
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