The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act would expand early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail to all states and would reimburse states for additional costs in administering elections during the coronavirus pandemic
Announcement comes as Louisiana officials announced they are postponing their April presidential primary to June
WASHINGTON – Amid the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee with oversight jurisdiction over federal elections, and Senator Wyden (D-OR), Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, announced plans to introduce legislation that would ensure Americans are still able to vote by expanding early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail to all states, and allowing voters who did not receive an absentee ballot, to use a printable ballot currently only provided for military and overseas voters.
“Americans are facing unprecedented disruptions to their daily lives and we need to make sure that in the midst of this pandemic, Americans don’t also lose their ability to vote,” Klobuchar said. “Today Louisiana announced that the state will postpone their primary election, and many election officials have expressed concern regarding how this public health emergency will affect upcoming elections. We must take critical steps to ensure that states have the resources they need to implement early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail programs. As Congress prepares to provide states with medical and economic relief, we should also act swiftly to pass my legislation to ensure that every American has a safe way to participate in our democracy during a national emergency.”
“Without federal action, vulnerable Americans are going to have to choose between casting a ballot and protecting their health. Vote-by-mail is a time-tested, reliable way for Americans to exercise their constitutional rights, and the right answer to respond to this crisis. I’m proud to be working with Senator Klobuchar to help states pay for the ballots, postage and equipment they’ll need to set up emergency vote by mail,” Wyden said.
Natural disasters and public health emergencies are occurring more frequently and with greater impact than ever before, often affecting the ability of victims and first responders to vote on Election Day. The lack of voting options in many states and sufficient emergency ballot procedures can leave many voters disenfranchised. COVID-19, hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and the wildfires in the Western United States are recent examples of the damage and disruption that public health emergencies and natural disasters can cause. We have already seen limited incidences of poll workers not showing up on Election Day this year, due to fears of the coronavirus. The recent tornadoes in Tennessee on Super Tuesday also greatly impacted voting in the state. With fears of catching the coronavirus, the priority must be to reduce the number of people voting in person at any given time, by allowing for early voting, and for all people to be able to vote from their homes using vote-by-mail. As a last result, voters who did not receive their absentee ballots will also need access to a printable mail in ballot that has so far only been made available to military and overseas voters.
Emergencies in the proximity of an election day can have a lasting impact as polling places deal with flooding, lack of power, or other unsafe conditions. The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act (NDEBA) represents a commonsense solution to ensuring the 2020 elections, and future elections, are resilient to emergencies and that we are protecting the voting rights of those in harm’s way as well as emergency responders.
The bill would specifically:
- Expand early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail to all states.
- Require states and jurisdictions to establish a publicly available contingency plan to enable eligible Americans to vote in the case of an emergency and establish an initiative to recruit poll workers from high schools and colleges.
- Amend the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) to allow voters who did not receive an absentee ballot for the 2020 election to use a printable Federal Write in Absentee Ballot (FWAB) including a secrecy envelope and mailing envelope. Require that states which offer printable absentee ballots with listed candidates under UOCAVA, allow voters who did not receive an absentee ballot for the 2020 election to use such a ballot.
- Amend the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to charge the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) with creating a domestic version of the FWAB that can be used starting in 2022.
- Create categories of eligible Americans who can use the domestic FWAB including:
- Those who requested an absentee ballot from the State or jurisdiction where they are registered to vote but never received it.
- Those who reside in an area or state effected by a natural disaster or emergency declared by the government of that state or area, including a national emergency.
- Those who are absent from their voting jurisdiction on the day of the election because they are an emergency responder or volunteering in response to a natural disaster or emergency.
- Those who are hospitalized or expect to be hospitalized on the day of the election.
- Require that all states provide self-sealing envelopes with prepaid postage to all voters who request a voter registration application, absentee ballot application, or absentee ballot. And require that all states offer and accept online absentee ballot applications.
- Direct all states to use envelopes with an Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) to allow voters to track their ballot for the 2020 election and for following elections, create a federal domestic ballot tracking program with the necessary funds to implement such a program.
- Require absentee ballots to be counted if postmarked or signed before the close of the polls on Election Day and received on or before the day on which final vote totals are required by law to be submitted to the State for an official canvass of the election.
- Authorize funds necessary sums to reimburse states for the cost of implementing the Act, such as providing prepaid postage and purchasing additional ballot scanners. Provide $2 million in additional funds to the EAC for supporting states in implementing the Act.
Throughout her time in the Senate, Klobuchar has been fighting to protect voting rights for all Americans. In January, Klobuchar and Casey introduced the Accessible Voting Act of 2020, legislation to remove barriers to voting for seniors, people with disabilities, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and those with limited English proficiency.
Wyden has long pushed to expand vote-by-mail nationwide to improve accessibility for seniors, working families, college students and others who might have difficulty voting in person. He has introduced universal vote by mail legislation every Congress since 2006. Wyden was the first senator elected in an all-mail election in 1996.
Last year, Klobuchar and Brown introduced the SAVE VOTERs Act to amend the National Voter Registration Act to clarify that a state may not use someone’s failure to vote as reason to remove them as a registered voter. Also last year, she introduced the Register America to Vote Act, legislation to ensure that every state implements a secure process to automatically register eligible citizens to vote on their eighteenth birthday. The bill also directs states to allow voters who have been automatically registered, or who were previously registered to vote, to update their address through the day of the election and authorizes a $325 million grant program for states to implement their automatic voter registration programs and to improve their election security. Klobuchar has also partnered with Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) to ensure that servicemembers know that their votes are being counted. Klobuchar’s provision in last year’s NDAA with Cornyn would authorize funds for the Department of Defense and United States Postal Service to conduct a study to determine what is necessary to scale a ballot tracking program to all members of the Armed Forces and overseas voters.
Klobuchar also leads the Students Voicing Opinions in Today’s Elections (VOTE) Act which would create a pilot program to educate high school seniors about registering to vote and help get them registered and the Same Day Registration Act to require states to allow people to register to vote on the same day as the election. In March 2018, Klobuchar and Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and John Kennedy (R-LA) introduced the Support our Military Spouses Act. This legislation would reduce confusion and ensure military spouses do not have to establish new legal residency after every military reassignment.