Klobuchar leads legislation – the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act – to help state election officials meet the pandemic head-on

Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt on Senate Floor: We must be “sure that money is not an obstacle in states being able to have successful elections this year”

WASHINGTON - Today, just 126 days before the November election and right before the Senate’s July 4 recess, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee with oversight jurisdiction over federal elections, led her colleagues on the Senate floor in pushing for the immediate passage of her legislation -- the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act -- and funding to protect our elections amidst an unprecedented pandemic and foreign interference in our elections.

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and continued attacks from foreign adversaries, Congress has failed to provide adequate funding and pass comprehensive election security and reform legislation for states to secure and administer elections. 

“Colleagues, let me be clear. If we are defending our elections, then we must protect our democracy. And if our elections are not safe, then our democracy is not secure. Election security is national security,” Klobuchar said.

“...In the midst of this pandemic, we need to make sure no voter has to choose between their health and exercising their right to vote. That is why I am urging my colleagues to support my legislation with Senator Ron Wyden, which is cosponsored by 36 other Senators – the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act – to help state election officials meet this pandemic head-on. 

“Our legislation does not require us to reinvent how we vote. Instead, our bill would overcome the challenges posed by the coronavirus by expanding existing election practices like voting by mail and early voting.”

The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020, introduced on March 18, 2020 by Klobuchar and Senator Ron Wyden (D-WA) and now with 36 cosponsors, would ensure Americans are still able to vote during the pandemic by expanding early in-person voting and voting by mail to all states as well as providing funding to train poll workers. Most of the provisions in her legislation have now been included in the HEROES Act, which was passed by the House of Representatives in May.

Klobuchar has consistently encouraged her colleagues to join her in taking action to ensure voters can cast their ballots safely during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Last week, Klobuchar spoke on the floor of the Senate and asked for unanimous consent to pass her legislation. The unanimous consent failed due to objections from Senate Republicans, but Senator Roy Blunt, Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, announced that he will hold a Rules Committee hearing on election safety and agreed on the need for additional funding to protect elections from coronavirus.

On June 11, Klobuchar led her colleagues in a letter to Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt, Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, and Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in calling for hearings on the threat coronavirus poses for elections.

In May, Klobuchar took to the Senate floor Klobuchar to ask for unanimous consent to lift restrictions that prevent states from accessing election funding designated to help them safely carry out elections during the pandemic, Republicans objected to Klobuchar’s request.

In April, Klobuchar wrote an op-ed in the New York Times on the need to expand mail voting, early voting, and online voter registration. In March, Klobuchar and Wyden wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post, highlighting the need “to protect the foundation of our democracy by ensuring that every eligible American can safely cast a ballot in the upcoming elections.”

Before the Senate considered the third coronavirus relief package, Senators Coons and Klobuchar wrote a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, urging them to include funding to protect the 2020 elections. In April, Klobuchar, Coons, and Wyden published an op-ed in USA TODAY, highlighting the need for the fourth relief package to include money and direction for states to expand vote-by-mail and early voting.

Transcript of Klobuchar remarks as delivered below and video available HERE.

Mr. President, I come to the floor today to discuss the threats facing our upcoming elections. Threats from the coronavirus and threats posed by foreign adversaries and to once again urge my Republican colleagues to immediately take up legislation to address these threats. As Ranking Member of the Rules Committee, I am proud to be speaking on the floor today with my democratic colleagues, including Senators Blumenthal, Warner, Durbin, Coons, and Wyden who will speak during the next hour on the need to protect our elections and make voting safe and easy throughout this pandemic and beyond. And that is safe and easy for Democrats, for Republicans, for independents, for members of any party or anyone who wants to vote. This is not a partisan issue. Voting, our very democracy, is not a partisan issue. Everyone who wants to vote should be able to vote for whoever they want to vote for. 

Today there are primaries happening in Colorado and Utah, two of the five states that vote almost entirely by mail as well as Oklahoma. As cases of coronavirus in this country rise, it's vital that all voters be able to cast their ballots from home. To cast their ballots by mail, a system which Colorado and Utah know to be safe and secure. We have heard Senator Romney speak out strongly in defense of vote by mail and how it works in Utah. We have heard elected officials in Colorado, both Democrats and Republicans, these two states that have primaries today, say that their system works, that their democracies work. This week we're also working to pass the National Defense Authorization Act. 

Colleagues, let me be clear. If we are defending our elections, then we must protect our democracy. And if our elections are not safe, then our democracy is not secure. Election security is national security. We shouldn't spend more on military bands. I love military bands but we shouldn't spend more on military bands than we do on securing our elections on a federal level, especially now when we have foreign adversaries which the intelligence officials in the Trump Administration have long said were emboldened by the last election, as in Russia and will try to do this again. We should not be spending more on military bands than securing our elections on a federal level when in fact we have a situation where a pandemic has made it unsafe for people to vote, especially seniors, especially people with preexisting conditions, especially our veterans. 

The Government Accountability Office conducted a study and found that between 2012 and 2016 the U.S. Military spent $1.5 billion on military bands. Since our elections were attacked by Russia in 2016, Congress has given states $805 million to modernize our election systems and protect them from future attacks. That's about 6% of the cost of a new aircraft carrier. That's always given the states after the biggest attack on our elections in modern history. Every single state now we know they tried to get in. They tried to hack in Illinois. They got as close as the voter information.

What must we do? Well now we face the immediate threat of covid-19 as well as the threat we've known has been out there for years. I fought hard with Senator Coons and others to help secure $400 million, and I appreciate the work of my colleague Senator Blunt, the chairman of the Rules Committee, in helping us to secure that funding as well as Senator Shelby and Senator Leahy. 

We know that is not everything we need. Election officials are using the money from the $805 million in election security funding that I already mentioned which is supposed to do things like replace old election equipment, produce a paper record. But now we know that election officials in states that are already strapped for cash and states that are facing enormous debt are having to buy which they should, mass cleaning supplies, trying to figure out how to keep polling locations open and paid postage and envelopes. Last week I was glad to appear here with my friend Senator Blunt and he has said that he is open to working with us on funding as well as making some corrections from the last bit of money that was sent out. He's also going to be holding a hearing in our committee on elections which I truly appreciate during this time of pandemic. 

As I said, elections are a matter of national security and during a global pandemic, they are a matter of public health and safety. Contrary to what the president has been saying, I would rather put ballots in an envelope than put voters in the hospital. But yet our president keeps questioning the security of vote by mail, yet we have Republican Senators like Senator Romney who have securely said in their state it works quite well. And our job now is to realize that nationally about 25% of people have been voting by mail in the last few federal elections, and that we want to greatly increase that number. We know that not everyone will vote by mail. We know part of the solution is having poll workers who are not as susceptible to the virus, who are in safe conditions, we know that part of the solution is keeping the polls open as long as possible, early in states like my state which keeps the polls open weeks before an election because then voters don't congregate as much. But we also know that part of the solution, a big part of the solution is making voting by mail available to everyone. We have seen what happens when people can't vote safely. 

No one will forget the images of those voters in line in Milwaukee in garbage bags and homemade masks. Just waiting to exercise their right to vote. No one will forget the numbers that dozens and dozens of them contracted the coronavirus and that in fact poll workers got sick from that day. No one will forget the image recently in Georgia of people waiting and waiting, of a woman who had marched with Dr. King in her 80's getting there at 6:00 in the morning waiting and then actually staying because she wanted to make sure that her friends would be able to vote. We've seen the president's tweets about voting by mail. These tweets are directly a hit on our democracy. They degrade the integrity of our voting system and people shouldn't fall for it. We know that these states that have been holding elections that are mostly by mail, Utah, Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii, and Washington, we know that those states have done a good job. Some of those states are blue states. Some are purple states. Some are red states.

Again just like the virus, doesn't know if it's hitting someone who's a Democrat or a Republican -- vote by mail --It works regardless of what someone's political affiliation is. So it has really concerned me what the president has been saying. As "New York Times" editorial board has noted, states that use vote by mail have encountered essentially zero fraud. Oregon, the pioneer in this area, has sent out more than 100 million mail-in ballots since 2000 and has documented only about a dozen cases of proven fraud. Rounded to the seventh decimal point, that's .00000001% of all votes cast. And to top it off, while those voters were standing in line in those garbage bags and homemade masks in Wisconsin in the rain, the president was voting in the luxury of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with his own mail-in ballot that he obtained from Palm Beach, Florida. That's what he did.

Everyone should have that same right. So what do we do? In the midst of this pandemic, we need to make sure no voter has to choose between their health and exercising their right to vote. That's why I'm urging my colleagues to support our legislation with Senator Ron Wyden which is now cosponsored by 36 other senators. The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act to help state election officials meet this pandemic head-on. What does it do? Well, it has the funding, and I'm so pleased that my colleague Senator Blunt has said he's willing to work with us and work with me on that funding as we work to negotiate COVID-related provisions, I hope in the next few weeks.

Our legislation does more. It starts with guaranteeing every American the option to vote by mail. 16 states require voters to provide an excuse if they want to cast a ballot by mail. I will note that during the pandemic, 13 of these states are allowing all voters to cast a ballot by mail without needing to provide an excuse. They've done it because governors have waived things, because legislatures have done their jobs, but that still remains with three states, three states that still have those provisions in place. Why during the midst of a national pandemic that isn't just hitting one state, it's not about Vermont or it's not about Wisconsin or it is not just about Hawaii. It's about every single state. Would we not at least have a floor, a requirement that people be able to vote without an excuse. Why would some states still require a notary. Yes, that's in place. It was in place in six states, had the provision that you either have to have a notary or two witnesses in order to get a mail-in ballot. Yes, some of these states have waived that. That is a good thing. 

But why wouldn't we just simply since they all have not waived it put in place some simple requirements that everyone knows will guarantee them their right to be able to obtain a ballot. The bottom line is that it should be easy to vote and not hard to vote. We're not alone in this fight. Our legislation has been endorsed by more than a dozen organizations, including the group founded by former First Lady Michelle Obama. When We All Vote, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights, Voto Latino, the National Urban League and Common Cause.

I think the key here, though, as we head into -- and I know that my friend is going to object to the legislation as is -- but think the key as we move ahead the next few weeks is to everyone step back, talk to your secretaries of state, talk to your governors. You're going to find that both Democratic and Republican governors are saying look, we're already strapped for cash. We had no idea this pandemic was coming our way. We didn't plan ahead in our budgets last year. We need some help in our state to be able to mail in all the ballots so people will be able to vote. At the very least I hope that is what comes out of this.

And last I'll tell you the American people are ahead of this body right now. Three polls released in the last couple of months show an overwhelming majority of voters, over 80%, favor measures to make voting safe and easy in November by expanding mail-in and early in-person voting. One of these polls conducted in six battleground states showed that 74% of voters wanted their senators to support legislation to implement voting reform, including a majority of Republican voters in those states.

That is across party lines. That is why I hope my colleagues will join us and we can get this done. Mr. President, as if in legislative session, I ask unanimous consent that the Rules Committee be discharged from further consideration of S. 4033, the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020 and the senate proceed to its immediate consideration. I further ask that the bill be considered read a third time and passed and the motion to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table with no intervening action or debate.