Kamala Harris introduces sweeping $5 billion measure to enhance voter safety

Kamala Harris introduces sweeping $5 billion measure to enhance voter safety
© Greg Nash

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisDebate commission adding option to cut candidates' mics: report Debates panel says changes under consideration 'to ensure a more orderly discussion' The Hill's 12:30 Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Country reacts to debate night of mudslinging MORE (D-Calif.) on Thursday introduced legislation that would authorize $5 billion in spending to expand voting options and improve the safety and accessibility of polling locations across the country. 

The bill, dubbed the VoteSafe Act of 2020, would require that every state have early in-person voting periods of at least 20 days before the November general election and mandate that every state allow no-excuse mail-in absentee ballots, so individuals can vote absentee for any reason. 

In announcing the proposal, Harris cited the various concerns that have emerged as some states hold elections amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

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“The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the obstacles many already face when voting," Harris said in a statement. "Even before the pandemic, Native Americans, Black and Latinx voters, and voters with disabilities too often faced long lines, inaccessible voting locations, and outright hostility by election officials."

"I’m proud to announce the VoteSafe Act because the American people deserve a comprehensive solution to ensure that voting is safe and accessible," she added. 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump signs bill averting shutdown after brief funding lapse Privacy, civil rights groups demand transparency from Amazon on election data breaches Facebook takes down Trump campaign ads tying refugees to coronavirus MORE last month signed a coronavirus stimulus package that included $400 million to help states conduct elections during the pandemic. The legislation did not include any requirements for how states could use the funding. 

But some advocates have argued the funds don't go far enough in addressing election safety concerns. Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams (D) and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) on Wednesday called for passing legislation to provide states $4 billion to help them move toward mail-in voting.

Harris's legislation would provide grants for states to improve the safety and reliability of their polling places. According to the bill, the funds would go toward the implementation and promotion of curbside voting, as well as efforts to ensure voting access for minority communities, among other priorities. 

Discussions surrounding the expansion of mail-in voting have escalated in recent weeks, as some lawmakers voice fears about forcing voters to crowd into polling places. In Wisconsin, voters were forced to cast ballots in person after the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that no absentee ballots sent in after Election Day would be counted. 

Five states — Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Utah and Colorado — already hold elections entirely by mail. Meanwhile, 33 states and Washington, D.C., give voters the option. Voting by mail is only available in certain circumstances in the other 16 states.