Senators push to expand vote by mail as coronavirus keeps people home

Election workers sort vote-by-mail ballots for the presidential primary at King County Elections in Renton, Washington on March 10, 2020.

Jason Redmond | AFP | Getty Images

Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Ron Wyden are pushing to make vote-by-mail available to every American as the coronavirus pandemic threatens to keep people at home during election season. 

“The best way to ensure that this virus doesn’t keep people from the ballot box is to bring the ballot box to them. We must allow every American the ability to vote by mail,” the two lawmakers wrote in an opinion article in The Washington Post published on Monday. “And we must expand early voting so that voters who are not able to vote by mail are not exposed to the elevated infection risks of long lines and crowded polling locations.”

The Democrats unveiled legislation last week known as the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act, that will expand vote by mail and early in-person voting to all states. For those who are disabled and cannot mark ballots by hand, the legislation provides for remote ballot marking. 

The proposal comes as COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, is already wreaking havoc with voting in the Democratic presidential primary. Louisiana and Georgia have both announced that they will postpone their elections, and Democratic officials in Wyoming have said they will do away with the in-person portion of their caucuses. 

In Ohio, which had been scheduled to vote on Tuesday, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine announced late Monday evening that the state’s polls will be ordered closed, apparently defying a judge who just hours before rejected a lawsuit DeWine backed seeking to postpone the vote. 

The legislation would also boost participation in states facing weather-related national emergencies, the lawmakers wrote. Tornadoes in Tennessee threatened voters on Super Tuesday, and hurricanes and wildfires have also disrupted elections.

“We’re in a national emergency for which federal leadership is most important. States and local elections offices can’t bear the burden alone,” Klobuchar and Wyden wrote. “Our bill ensures they have the resources and guidance necessary to protect the constitutional rights of every American voter and keep democracy functioning as we weather this disaster.”

Klobuchar, who dropped out of the Democratic primary earlier this month, and Wyden, whose home state of Oregon was the first to institute vote-by-mail exclusively, are both longtime advocates for voting reform. 

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