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 KlobucharDemocrats: A moment in history, use it wisely The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Rodney Davis says most important thing White House can do on COVID-19 is give consistent messaging; US new cases surpass 50k for first time The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Stagwell President Mark Penn says Trump is losing on fighting the virus; Fauci says U.S. 'going in the wrong direction' in fight against virus MORE (D-Minn.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenCongress gears up for battle over expiring unemployment benefits Hillicon Valley: Senate panel advances bill targeting online child sexual abuse | Trump administration awards tech group contract to build 'virtual' wall | Advocacy groups urge Congress to ban facial recognition technologies Senate panel advances bill targeting online child sexual abuse 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 SandersDemocratic senator will introduce bill mandating social distancing on flights after flying on packed flight Neil Young opposes use of his music at Trump Mt Rushmore event: 'I stand in solidarity with the Lakota Sioux' Democratic strategist Andrew Feldman says Biden is moving left MORE (I-Vt.) and former candidates Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSenators push foreign media to disclose if they are registered as foreign agents Warnock raises almost M in Georgia Senate race in second quarter Liberal veterans group urges Biden to name Duckworth VP MORE (D-Calif.) and Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSenators push foreign media to disclose if they are registered as foreign agents Joe Biden must release the results of his cognitive tests — voters need to know GOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday MORE (D-N.J.).  

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

Rep. Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisCelebrating our freedoms and counting all military votes this November The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Rodney Davis says most important thing White House can do on COVID-19 is give consistent messaging; US new cases surpass 50k for first time Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Rep. Rodney Davis 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.”

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.