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Democrats introduce bill to promote mail-in voting amid coronavirus crisis

Democrats introduce bill to promote mail-in voting amid coronavirus crisis
© Greg Nash

A group of Democratic senators led by Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: YouTube suspends OANN amid lawmaker pressure | Dems probe Facebook, Twitter over Georgia runoff | FCC reaffirms ZTE's national security risk Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff YouTube temporarily suspends OANN account after spreading coronavirus misinformation MORE (D-Minn.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers On The Money: Push for student loan forgiveness puts Biden in tight spot | Trump is wild card as shutdown fears grow | Mnuchin asks Fed to return 5 billion in unspent COVID emergency funds Grassley, Wyden criticize Treasury guidance concerning PPP loans MORE (D-Ore.) introduced legislation on Wednesday to promote mail-in and early voting to decrease the spread of the coronavirus. 

The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act (NDEBA) would ensure voters have 20 days of early voting in all states, require that all mail-in ballots submitted during 21 days leading to an election be counted, and ensure that all voters have the option to request absentee ballots. 

The legislation would also provide $3 million to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to begin implementing some of the bill’s requirements, along with reimbursing states for doing the same. 

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Both Klobuchar and Wyden pointed to recently delayed primaries in Ohio, Kentucky, Louisiana, Georgia, and Maryland because of coronavirus fears in emphasizing the need to utilize mail-in ballots.

In-person voting dropped in Florida, Arizona and Illinois on Tuesday, when the states held their primaries.

Klobuchar, who serves as the top Democrat on the elections-focused Senate Rules Committee, said in a statement that Americans are facing “unprecedented disruptions to their daily lives” and pushed for providing them voting options during national emergencies.  

“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,” Klobuchar said. 

Wyden said in a separate statement that “if Ohio, Louisiana, Georgia, Maryland and Kentucky had vote by mail on the books years ago, they wouldn't have had to postpone their elections. This bill will give our country the highest chance of avoiding delayed elections and ensure Americans can exercise their Constitutional rights. No one should have to put their health at risk to vote.”

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Klobuchar and Wyden previously penned an op-ed in The Washington Post promoting the introduction of the new bill, pointing to the mounting number of Americans who have contracted the coronavirus as illustrating the need for changes in how Americans vote. 

More than a dozen other Democratic senators are co-sponsoring the legislation, including Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation Clyburn: Biden falling short on naming Black figures to top posts Prepare for buyers' remorse when Biden/Harris nationalize health care MORE (I-Vt.) and former candidates Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisThe Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation Biden can rebuild trust in our justice system by prioritizing prosecutorial reform Harris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence MORE (D-Calif.) and Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerSenate Democrats reelect Schumer as leader by acclamation  Hill associations push for more diversity in lawmakers' staffs Sanders celebrates Biden-Harris victory: 'Thank God democracy won out' MORE (D-N.J.).  

However, at least one Republican has already voiced his opposition to the bill. 

Rep. Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisGOP Rep. Dan Newhouse tests positive for COVID-19 Colorado Democrat Ed Perlmutter tests positive for coronavirus Biden's gain is Democratic baseball's loss with Cedric Richmond MORE (R-Ill.), the ranking member of the House Administration Committee, came out against the legislation in a statement on Wednesday, citing concerns around taking away election authority from states. 

"While I appreciate the Senators’ efforts, imposing additional constraints on states from the federal government is the opposite of what we should be doing right now,” Davis said. “Most states have already integrated these methods of voting, and we don't know how long it would take the rest of the country to be able to successfully implement these programs. We should not be pushing through unnecessary policies in a time of emergency.”

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Davis noted, however, that he was supporting efforts to give more election funding to the EAC to distribute to states “in the upcoming months.”

“This will allow states to improve the administration of elections, including covering costs associated with absentee voting and vote by mail, extending no-excuse absentee, and reimbursing for poll worker recruitment and training,” Davis said. “I hope we work across the aisle in Congress to accomplish this mission and ensure that states are prepared to deal with COVID-19 and keep their elections running smoothly and securely.”

The EAC has taken steps to help states to prevent the spread of the coronavirus at the polls this week. The agency told states in a notice on Tuesday that they would be allowed to use funds from the more than $800 million appropriated by Congress for election security efforts since 2018 to purchase cleaning supplies, masks and other necessities to fight the coronavirus.