March 19, 2020

Udall, Heinrich Co-Sponsor Bill to Ensure Americans’ Ability to Vote During National Emergencies such as Coronavirus

The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020 would expand early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail to all states and would reimburse states for additional costs in administering elections during the coronavirus pandemic

Recent confusion regarding Ohio’s primary underscores need for federal action

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) joined Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to introduce legislation that would ensure New Mexicans and all Americans are still able to vote safely by expanding early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail to all states, and allowing voters who did not receive an absentee ballot to use a printable ballot currently only provided for military and overseas voters. The legislation comes following widespread confusion surrounding Ohio’s primary this week, and following announcements by Louisiana and Georgia officials that they are postponing their April presidential primaries.

"Voting is one of our most fundamental rights as Americans, and it is the duty of elected officials to ensure every citizen has the ability to vote safely – no matter what," Udall said. "As New Mexicans face unprecedented disruptions to their daily lives and we continue to see confusion around primaries, it is clear that we need national action to ensure that as we navigate these new circumstances, we protect Americans’ right to vote. Our plan will make vote by mail available to every eligible voter and provide the resources needed for states to implement early in-person voting. I look forward to working with New Mexico’s secretary of state and other local officials to help ensure safe voting. No one should ever have to put their health or safety on the line to participate in our democracy.”

“The right to vote is what makes us who we are as Americans and must be protected,” Heinrich said. “There already is confusion around voting in primary elections, which is deeply concerning. We have the ability to create safe alternatives to in-person voting, including widespread access to vote-by-mail absentee ballots and early in-person voting. This legislation would help ensure the 2020 elections, and future elections, are resilient to emergencies. Especially in times like these, when so much in our daily lives has been thrown into turmoil, Americans must have absolute certainty that their fundamental right to participate in our democracy will never be in doubt."

Natural disasters and public health emergencies are occurring more frequently and with greater impact than ever before, affecting the ability of victims and first responders to vote on Election Day. The lack of voting options in many states and sufficient emergency ballot procedures can leave voters disenfranchised. COVID-19, hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and the wildfires in the Western United States are recent examples of the damage and disruption that public health emergencies and natural disasters can cause. We have already seen limited incidences of poll workers not showing up on Election Day this year, due to fears of the coronavirus. The recent tornadoes in Tennessee on Super Tuesday also greatly impacted voting in the state. With fears of catching the coronavirus, the priority must be to reduce the number of people voting in person at any given time, by allowing for early voting, and for all people to be able to vote from their homes using vote-by-mail. As a last resort, voters who did not receive their absentee ballots will also need access to a printable mail in ballot that has so far only been made available to military and overseas voters.

Emergencies in the proximity of an election day can have a lasting impact as polling places deal with flooding, lack of power, or other unsafe conditions. The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act (NDEBA) represents a commonsense solution to ensuring the 2020 elections, and future elections, are resilient to emergencies and that we are protecting the voting rights of those in harm’s way as well as emergency responders. 

The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020 would:

- Ensure that voters in all states have 20 days of early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail
- Allow states to 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. 
- 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. 
- 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.
- 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.

In addition to Udall, Heinrich, Klobuchar and Wyden the legislation is cosponsored by Senators Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Dick Durbin (D-Il.), 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.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Il.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) are cosponsors.