Democratic senators on Monday demanded a rapid expansion of absentee vote-by-mail and early voting, fearing the coronavirus pandemic will postpone the November elections.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Ron Wyden of Oregon partnered with Stand Up America to push for emergency legislation to fund states’ efforts to adapt to voters who are currently quarantined and learning to social distance.
Ms. Klobuchar and Mr. Wyden are the principal authors of the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020, which includes several provisions to expand America’s early and absentee voting capabilities. Ms. Klobuchar, whose husband, John Bessler, was diagnosed and hospitalized with the coronavirus on Monday, told reporters that lawmakers need to act now to ensure the November elections are not postponed as several states’ presidential primaries have been.
“I think everyone on this call within a week or two is going to have someone in their own family or a close friend that’s going to be stricken with this,” Ms. Klobuchar said on a call with reporters. “This is going to happen to everyone and it’s why we have to take incredibly fast and immediate measures now on hospitals and why we have been holding out for the best bill possible as well as the work that needs to be done for our economy, but that we can never forget that this is a democracy and people must be able to vote.”
Ms. Klobuchar and Mr. Wyden’s proposal aims to ensure that every state provides 20 days of in-person early voting and absentee vote-by-mail, with states required to process votes cast during that period beginning 14 days before Election Day to avoid real-time vote counting on Election Day.
The proposal would force states to provide self-sealing envelopes and prepaid postage to voters requesting an absentee ballot application, an absentee ballot, or a voter registration application. The bill would require states to provide downloadable and printable absentee ballots to voters who request but do not receive absentee ballots for the 2020 election. Beginning in 2022, the bill also would require the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to develop a downloadable and printable absentee ballot that everyone could use.
Stand Up America, a liberal advocacy group opposed to President Trump, said it has begun a national campaign in support of the legislation and made 50,000 phone calls urging Americans to push their senators to support the legislation.
The Democrats anticipate opposition from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but think they may find potential partners in individual Republican secretaries of state across the country. Ms. Klobuchar identified Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, as someone who has worked with her on ballot-access issues and may be open to further collaboration. Mr. Blunt’s office did not respond to request for comment.
Mr. Wyden said he and his Democratic colleagues would pull out all the stops to earn GOP support and get the legislation over the finish line.
“Look, America could be faced with a choice this fall of either Americans being able to vote, which means vote-by-mail, or not voting at all,” Mr. Wyden said. “And our case to [Republicans] is that’s not even a close call.”
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told reporters Monday her organization supports the bill and both Republicans and Democrats need to join in support because no one can predict which states will need it most.
“What happens if Democratic states could figure this out but Republican states couldn’t figure this out and then what happens in terms of the Electoral College?” Ms. Weingarten told reporters. “So right now it’s absolutely imperative before anybody can game out who is advantaged and who isn’t, that we actually protect the vote and do it in a way that ensures that every state has vote-by-mail, has early voting, has safe polling places.”
Companion legislation has not emerged in the House, but Mr. Wyden said he expected a proposal to be rolled out soon.
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