Our top priority right now is to make sure that people are safe in the face of this global pandemic. Federal, state and local health-care providers and first responders are working overtime to protect people, and we must give them the resources they need to do their jobs. The federal government must also fund testing, vaccine development and economic assistance for those whose lives have been turned upside down.
In the midst of this crisis, we must also remember to protect the foundation of our democracy by ensuring that every eligible American can safely cast a ballot in the upcoming elections. The coronavirus should not stop our citizens from casting their ballots.
The stakes are high. In less than eight months, elections will be held across the country that determine not only who the president will be but also the outcome of 11 gubernatorial elections, 35 of 100 U.S. Senate seats and all 435 seats in the House of Representatives. Primary elections underway across the country will decide who will be on the ballot in November, and we have already seen them affected by this pandemic.
Last week, officials in Louisiana and Georgia announced that they will postpone their primary elections; Wyoming officials altered their caucus process; and New York state has made some modifications to its local primary elections. And while states can shift primary dates, the Nov. 3 federal election is set by federal law, as the Constitution mandates that the new Congress convene on Jan. 3 and the president is inaugurated on Jan. 20.
Without federal action, Americans might have to choose between casting a ballot and protecting their health. That’s wrong, and we must take swift action to address the problem.
The best way to ensure that this virus doesn’t keep people from the ballot box is to bring the ballot box to them. We must allow every American the ability to vote by mail. And we must expand early voting so that voters who are not able to vote by mail are not exposed to the elevated infection risks of long lines and crowded polling locations.
On Monday, we will introduce the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020 to help election officials meet this pandemic head-on. Our legislation will guarantee every voter a secure mail-in paper ballot and help states cover the cost of printing, self-sealing envelopes, ballot tracking and postage. Vote-by-mail is a time-tested, reliable way for Americans to exercise their constitutional rights, and it is the right response to this crisis.
Our legislation would also expand early voting to avoid lines where the virus could spread and help states recruit young poll workers so that older Americans who typically step up on Election Day can stay home. As we adapt to this new threat, we must also remember that not every American can mark a ballot by hand, so our bill provides resources to ensure that Americans with a disability have access to remote ballot marking so that they can vote by mail, too.
This election will determine the future of our democracy in one of the most trying times we have faced as a nation. Every American must be heard. To account for potential postal delays, our bill requires that each ballot postmarked on or before Election Day be counted. It also blocks federal funding from being spent on Internet voting, which experts say is dangerously insecure.
We’re in a national emergency for which federal leadership is most important. States and local elections offices can’t bear the burden alone. Our bill ensures they have the resources and guidance necessary to protect the constitutional rights of every American voter and keep democracy functioning as we weather this disaster.
The ability for people to choose their leaders is the foundation of our democracy. Congress has acted to provide states with medical and economic relief; now we should act swiftly to pass the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020 to ensure that, during a national emergency, every American has a safe way to participate in our democracy.