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March 19, 2020

Senator Doug Jones, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Expand Early Voting and Vote-by-Mail in Response to COVID-19

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Ala.) has cosponsored legislation that would expand early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail, among other reforms, in the wake of the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.

“We should be making it easier to vote, not harder. Especially now in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, there are commonsense reforms we can enact to ensure that no one has to put their health at risk to exercise that important constitutional right,” Senator Jones said.

The legislation comes on the heels of an announcement by the Governor of Alabama that this month’s Senate runoff election would be postponed to July 14th, and as states across the country postpone their presidential primary elections in the interest of public safety. It also follows in the aftermath of deadly tornadoes that devastated communities in Tennessee the night before the state’s March 3 primary election.

The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act would specifically:

  • Ensure that voters in all states have 20 days of early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail and ensure states begin processing votes cast during early voting or by mail 14 days before Election Day to avoid delays in counting votes on Election Day.
  • Guarantee that all voter registration applications submitted by mail or online before and 21 days prior to election day are deemed valid. Allow any state to have a deadline which is closer to Election Day.
  • Require states and jurisdictions to establish a publicly available contingency plan to enable eligible Americans to vote in the case of an emergency and establish an initiative to improve the safety of voters and poll workers and recruit poll workers from high schools and colleges as well as from other State and local government offices. 
  • Provide all voters with the option of online requests for absentee ballots and require states to accept requests received before or 5 days prior to election day. Allow any state to have a deadline which is closer to Election Day.
  • Guarantee the counting of absentee ballots postmarked or signed before the close of the polls on Election Day and received on or before the 10 days following Election Day.
  • Ensure states provide self-sealing envelopes with prepaid postage for all voters who request a voter registration application, absentee ballot application, or an absentee ballot.
  • Require states to offer their downloadable and printable absentee ballots under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) to domestic voters who requested but did not receive an absentee ballot for the 2020 election and to voters with disabilities who requested an absentee ballot and reside in a state that does not offer secure accessible remote ballot marking.
  • Charge the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) with creating a uniform domestic downloadable and printable absentee ballot that can be used starting in 2022.
  • Direct all states that do not already use ballot tracking systems to use envelopes with an Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) to allow voters to track their ballot for the 2020 general election and successive elections until a state implements a domestic ballot update service. 
  • Charge the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), in consultation with the General Services Administration (GSA), EAC, and the United States Postal Service to create a domestic ballot update service for election officials to provide voters with updates on their ballot for the 2024 election and beyond.
  • Ensure states implement a specified signature curing procedure to allow voters the opportunity to address a signature mismatch.
  • Provide additional accommodations for Native American voters including allowing tribes to designate ballot pickup and drop-off locations and not requiring residential address for election mail.
  • Authorize funds necessary to reimburse states for the cost of implementing the Act, such as providing additional absentee ballots and prepaid postage, and purchasing additional ballot scanners and absentee ballot drop boxes.
  • Authorize funds necessary to reimburse states for the cost of developing or purchasing and implementing secure remote ballot marking to enable voters with disabilities to mark their ballots at home and vote by mail.
  • Provide $3 million in additional funds to the EAC for supporting states in implementing the Act.

Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined Senator Jones in introducing the legislation.

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