DelBene, Blumenauer, and Raskin Introduce Legislation to Protect Elections During COVID-19 and other Public Health Crises
Washington, D.C., March 11, 2020
Reps. Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) today introduced the Resilient Elections During Quarantines and Natural Disasters Act of 2020. This legislation addresses the threat COVID-19 poses to 2020 elections by requiring states and localities to create and administer plans to operate their elections in the event of quarantines advised by public health and government officials. The legislation also requires states to offer all voters the ability to vote by absentee ballot if a quarter of the states have declared an emergency related to COVID-19, another infectious disease, or a natural disaster. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced companion legislation in the Senate.
With 2020 primaries and general elections quickly approaching, COVID-19 has the potential to impact voters who cannot leave their homes due to self-quarantines, with the possibility of large-scale quarantines on the horizon. DelBene and Blumenauer, members of the Ways and Means Committee, and Raskin, member of the House Administration Committee, represent districts that are addressing several cases of COVID-19.
“We must always protect Americans’ fundamental right to vote,” said Rep. DelBene. “The COVID-19 outbreak is causing major disruption to communities in Washington and across the country. This bill allows states to be prepared ahead of this year’s election while protecting the health of voters, poll workers, and election officials.”
“Some things are overlooked when emergencies occur, but responsibly participating in our democracy should not be one of them,” said Rep. Blumenauer. “With a crucial election season approaching, we should not be putting individuals that are highly susceptible to contracting COVID-19 in danger by forcing them to vote in person. We need to act responsibly and allow for absentee voting to keep our communities safe.”
“As we fight the coronavirus in the spring, we have to look ahead to the election in the fall in order to protect every American’s right to vote,” said Rep. Raskin. People who are sick are going to have a hard time getting to the polls; many older poll workers will be reluctant to spend the day in close proximity to hundreds of people; and there will be uncertainties and anxieties attendant to Election Day. This is why I’m proud to cosponsor the Resilient Elections During Quarantines and Natural Disasters Act, which will allow voters to request absentee ballots online and vote-by-mail in the event of widespread quarantines, other COVID-19-related emergencies, or natural disasters. It would also ensure that states and local election officials work out plans to administer our elections safely and securely even in the face of significant disruptions.”
“No voter should have to choose between exercising their constitutional right and putting their health at risk,” Senator Wyden said. “When disaster strikes, the safest route for seniors, individuals with compromised immune systems or other at-risk populations is to provide every voter with a paper ballot they can return by mail or drop-off site. This is a nonpartisan, commonsense solution to the very real threat looming this November.”
Nearly six in ten poll workers in 2018 were over 60 years old, the prime at-risk population for COVID-19. The Resilient Elections During Quarantines and Natural Disasters Act of 2020 would require states and localities to formulate and publish their plans within 30 days. It would also require states to offer postage prepaid self-sealing envelopes to voters who vote absentee in order to reduce the risk associated with infection at post offices and provide $500 million in grants to states to cover the cost of postage and for high-speed scanners necessary to process large numbers of absentee ballots. This proactive measure comes as COVID-19 severely impacts daily life in the United States. It has been formally declared a pandemic worldwide by the World Health Organization.
To read a summary of the legislation, click here.