March 20, 2020

As the Coronavirus Outbreak Creates Historic Disruptions, Hirono and Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Protect Access to the Ballot Box

The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020 expands early in-person voting and absentee vote-by-mail to all states and pays states for additional election costs during the coronavirus pandemic

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Ranking Member on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, and her colleagues introduced the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee with oversight jurisdiction over federal elections, and Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, led the effort.

This legislation would ensure that Americans are able to vote, even in a public health emergency, by expanding early in-person voting and absentee vote-by-mail to all states. As a last resort, the legislation would also allow voters who did not receive their requested absentee ballot in time for Election Day to use a printable ballot currently only available to military and overseas voters.

The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act follows the announcements of Georgia and Louisiana that the states are postponing their primaries, delays and confusion about the date of Ohio’s primary, and concerns from other states about voting during this pandemic. 

“Americans’ right to vote is sacred, and we must ensure everyone is able to vote, even in public health emergencies or other natural disasters. While the Trump Administration has been eager to gut our voting rights and support voter suppression efforts, I join my colleagues to protect the fundamentally American right to vote by expanding options to vote by mail or vote in person safely,” Senator Hirono said.

Public health emergencies and natural disasters are occurring more frequently and create challenges to accessing the ballot box. This legislation would protect access to voting during the COVID-19 pandemic and other natural disasters and public health emergencies in the future.

The bill would, among other things:

-       Require states to provide 20 days of early in-person voting, and no-excuse absentee vote-by mail; and help ensure that states begin processing the votes cast 14 days before Election Day.

-       Allow all voters to request absentee ballots online, up to five days before Election Day, and allow states to have deadlines closer to Election Day.

-       Provide that 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 are counted.

-       Require states and jurisdictions to establish publicly available contingency plans to ensure eligible Americans can vote during an emergency.

-       Help ensure that states provide self-sealing envelopes with prepaid postage for all voters who request a voter registration application, absentee ballot application, or an absentee ballot.

-       Reimburse states for costs associated with adding these additional measures.

Senators Klobuchar and Wyden led the effort, which Senator Hirono and Senators 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-Ill.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) cosponsored.

Senator Hirono currently serves as the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, which oversees constitutional rights like the right to vote. Senator Hirono has championed voting rights protections. Last week, she called on the Senate to pass H.R. 1, the For the People Act, which would expand voting access for Americans. Sheopposed the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, called on the restoration of voting protections on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, and traveled to Selma, Alabama to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and present lei to civil rights leaders.

The Senator is a cosponsor of the Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore the voting protections gutted by the Shelby County decision, and the Native Voting Rights Act, which would protect polling places and voter registration in or near Indian reservations.