Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) cosponsored legislation introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that would ensure upcoming elections are accessible, secure, and safe by expanding early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail to all states. The legislation comes following announcements by numerous states that they are postponing presidential, state, and local primaries amid coronavirus disruptions.
“We’ve already seen the coronavirus pandemic disrupt primary elections across the country, and it’s past time that Congress provide states with the resources they need to avoid any further election delays and implement safe alternatives to in-person voting on Election Day,” the Senators said. “Expanded early voting and vote-by-mail programs have proven to be both effective and accurate, and will ensure that Nevadans, and citizens across the country, can take precautions to protect their health and safety without sacrificing their chance to participate in our democracy.”
Natural disasters and public health emergencies are occurring more frequently and with greater impact than ever before, 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 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. To avoid spreading the coronavirus, election officials must reduce the number of people voting in person at any given time by allowing for early voting, and for as many people as possible to vote from their homes using vote-by-mail.
Emergencies and disasters 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 voters and poll workers. The bill would specifically:
- Ensure that voters in all states have 20 days of early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail and require states to begin processing early and absentee voters 14 days before Election Day to avoid delays in counting votes on Election Day.
- Guarantee that all voter registration applications submitted by mail or online 21 days prior to election day are deemed valid, while allowing states to set a deadline closer to Election Day.
- 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 improve the safety of voters and poll workers and recruit poll workers from high schools and colleges as well as from other State and local government offices.
- Provide the option of online requests for absentee ballots and require states to accept requests received 5 days prior to election day while allowing states to set a deadline closer to closer to Election Day.
- Guarantee that absentee ballots postmarked or signed before the close of the polls on Election Day and received within 10 days of the election are counted.
- Ensure states provide self-sealing envelopes with prepaid postage for all voters who request a voter registration application, absentee ballot application, or an absentee ballot.
- Require states to offer downloadable and printable absentee ballots under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) to domestic voters who requested but did not receive an absentee ballot for the 2020 election and to voters with disabilities who requested an absentee ballot and reside in a state that does not offer secure accessible remote ballot marking.
- Protect the rights and safety of Native American voters by allowing tribes to designate ballot pickup and drop-off locations and not requiring residential addresses for election mail.
- Reimburse states for costs such as absentee ballots and prepaid postage, purchasing ballot scanners and absentee ballot drop boxes, and other measures to ensure the security of voting at home or by mail.