The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Here’s how to guarantee coronavirus won’t disrupt our elections

Election worker Erick Moss sorts vote-by-mail ballots for the presidential primary at King County Elections in Renton, Wash., on March 10. (Jason Redmond/Afp Via Getty Images)

Amy Klobuchar represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate and is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee. Ron Wyden represents Oregon in the U.S. Senate and is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.

The coronavirus has brought unprecedented disruptions to the daily lives of Americans. Something as commonplace as walking into the grocery store is a troubling reminder that the world is facing a challenge that most of us have never seen before.

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.

The latest updates on the coronavirus

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.

Democratic Party lawyer Marc Elias says states and Congress need to act now to ensure all votes count during the general election. These changes are overdue. (Video: The Washington Post)

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.

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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.

Read more:

The Post’s View: Our bitterly divided House has done the right thing to address the coronavirus crisis

Jenny Durkan: What every mayor needs to know about this virus

Greg Sargent: Trump’s rage at the media takes a dangerous new turn

Robert J. Samuelson: The politics of trust — and mistrust

Cheryl Benard: The chaos at Dulles Airport shows how not to handle a pandemic

Coronavirus: What you need to know

End of the public health emergency: The Biden administration ended the public health emergency for the coronavirus pandemic on May 11, just days after WHO said it would no longer classify the coronavirus pandemic as a public health emergency. Here’s what the end of the covid public health emergency means for you.

Tracking covid cases, deaths: Covid-19 was the fourth leading cause of death in the United States last year with covid deaths dropping 47 percent between 2021 and 2022. See the latest covid numbers in the U.S. and across the world.

The latest on coronavirus boosters: The FDA cleared the way for people who are at least 65 or immune-compromised to receive a second updated booster shot for the coronavirus. Here’s who should get the second covid booster and when.

New covid variant: A new coronavirus subvariant, XBB. 1.16, has been designated as a “variant under monitoring” by the World Health Organization. The latest omicron offshoot is particularly prevalent in India. Here’s what you need to know about Arcturus.

Would we shut down again? What will the United States do the next time a deadly virus comes knocking on the door?

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