Gillibrand pushes for emergency voter protections in next phase of COVID-19 relief legislation

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From the office of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand:

As the Coronavirus Pandemic Threatens Americans’ Ability to Vote Safely, Gillibrand Urges Senate Leadership to Expand Early Voting, Absentee Ballots, Vote By Mail, and Facilitate Voter Registration

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand called on Senate leadership to provide emergency funding and provisions in the next phase of coronavirus relief legislation in order to protect Americans’ constitutional right to vote. The unprecedented national crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has raised concerns over election security and the need for immediate action to reinforce voting rights in November 2020 and beyond. As guidelines for social distancing continue to be extended, Gillibrand is urging Congress to include critical provisions from the Voter Empowerment Act of 2019 (S. 549) and new emergency voting mechanisms that would expand access to early voting, absentee ballots, and voting by mail in the next coronavirus relief package. 

“With the 2020 election looming closer, and with no clear end to social distancing, it is imperative that Congress put emergency provisions in place to protect all Americans’ constitutional right to vote,” said Senator Gillibrand. “We’ve already watched voters and poll workers put their health and safety at risk to exercise their right to vote to continue down that path in the midst of a pandemic would be a disaster for our democracy. Congress must address barriers to voter registration and the ballot box so that every American can safely vote in November and beyond.”

To protect voters during the public health crisis, Senator Gillibrand is pushing for the next relief package to include critical provisions from the Voter Empowerment Act, additional emergency voting mechanisms, and necessary funding, including: 

  • At least 15 consecutive days of early voting and easily accessible polling locations; 
  • A state requirement allowing no excuse vote-by-mail eballots;
  • Expanded eligibility for Federal Write-in Ballots;
  • Establishment of a secure online voter registration system that is accessible to people with disabilities and through an automated telephone-based system for Americans without access to broadband services;
  • Automatic voter registration for all eligible individuals; 
  • And robust ballot tracking measures for absentee and mail-in ballots beginning for the 2020 election and all other federal general elections.

Full text of the letter can be found here and below. 

Dear Senator McConnell and Senator Schumer,

I write today to express concern regarding the impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on the security of our elections, and the need for immediate actions to protect our democracy in November 2020 and beyond. To that end, I urge you to ensure that any new COVID-19 relief efforts passed by Congress include critical provisions from the Voter Empowerment Act of 2019 (S. 549) and new emergency voting mechanisms and funding to ensure that the constitutional rights of all Americans are protected during this unprecedented public health crisis and in future emergencies.

With the 2020 election looming closer every day, and no clear end for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) social distancing recommendations to prevent contracting COVID-19, it is imperative that Congress expand access to early voting, absentee ballots, and voting by mail. Beginning this year and in each subsequent election, there must be at least 15 consecutive days of early voting, and a requirement for states to ensure that there are polling locations easily accessible by public transportation and in rural areas.

Congress should also require states to allow all eligible voters to request no excuse vote-by-mail ballots with both prepaid postage and a self-sealing envelope. Moreover, Congress must also expand eligibility for who may receive a Federal Write in Ballot in 2020 and beyond to include voters who requested an absentee ballot but have not received it at least two days before election day; voters residing in an area where an emergency has been declared before election day; voters who will be absent on election day due to professional or volunteer service, or who are hospitalized or expect to be hospitalized on election day; and voters who have a disability and live in a state without secure remote ballot marking.

Congress should also require every state to accept and count all absentee or mail-in ballots if they are post-marked on or before Election Day or submitted at a designated ballot drop-off location, and states should be required to begin processing these ballots at least 14-days prior to Election Day.

To ensure all eligible voters are able to exercise their constitutionally protected right to participate in our Democracy in this year’s election and each subsequent election, Congress needs to address barriers to voter registration. Congress must require states to establish a secure online voter registration system that is accessible to people with disabilities and through an automated telephone-based system for those who lack access to reliable broadband service.

States should also be required to establish automatic voter registration for all eligible individuals. For those who choose to vote in-person, Congress must require states to establish same day voter registration, and prohibit States from requiring applicants to provide more than the last four digits of their Social Security numbers.

To help states quickly create an online voter registration system and automatic registration in time for the 2020 election, Congress should provide adequate funding, establish uniform security practices and clear definitions, and direct the Election Assistance Commission to provide robust technical assistance and training to states.

Congress should also establish robust ballot tracking measures for absentee and mail-in ballots beginning for the 2020 election and all other federal general elections. This tracking system must include information on whether the vote was counted, and if it was not counted justification for exclusion. In addition, states and localities should be required to provide voters with online access to this tracking information or a toll-free telephone number if the state or election office does not yet have a website. Congress should also provide robust funding for States to conduct risk-limiting audits for this fall’s general election and each subsequent Federal general election.

This unprecedented public health crisis also provides us with an opportunity to better plan for unforeseen emergencies that may arise in the future. Congress should establish and require states and jurisdictions to create publicly available contingency plans to protect our elections and the voting rights of all Americans in the case of an emergency. For all future emergencies declared between 120 and 30 days before Election Day, these contingency plans should require states to automatically mail absentee ballots and balloting materials to all registered voters no later than two weeks before Election Day, and require a signed affirmation that the voter has not and will not cast another ballot.  

Protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans to participate in elections is of the utmost importance. During this unprecedented national emergency, Congress must provide all of the necessary funding to ensure states are able to comply with these new voting mechanisms, including by supporting the cost of balloting materials, postage and mailing, and public awareness campaigns. We also need to protect in-person voting in the 2020 Election by ensuring that our poll workers are protected from the spread of COVID-19 by providing resources to outfit polling locations with sufficient sanitation supplies and requiring states to implement the CDC’s social distancing guidelines. 

Thank you for your consideration of this important request. Protecting our elections and the constitutional rights of all Americans is critical to ensuring the long-term security of our Democracy.

Sincerely,

Kirsten Gillibrand

United States Senator

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