WASHINGTON, D.C. May 12, 2020 – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) and U.S. Representative James E. Clyburn (D-SC), House Majority Whip, along with U.S. Representative Marcia Fudge (D-OH), on Tuesday introduced the VoteSafe Act, legislation to expand voting options and improve the safety and accessibility of polling places across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As our country combats COVID-19, we’re also in the middle of an election year,” said Sen. Harris. “It is critical that we meet voters where they are and ensure that all forms of voting are safe and accessible. That is why I am proud to partner with House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn and Rep. Marcia Fudge to introduce the VoteSafe Act,which is centered on the experiences of communities that have long struggled with access to the ballot box.”
“The right to vote is a basic American right and our democracy depends on our citizens having access to the ballot box,” said House Majority Whip Clyburn. “The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the many challenges Americans face while voting, which is why I’m proud to join Senator Harris and Congresswoman Fudge to introduce the VoteSafe Act today, because it expands voting options to include no-excuse vote by mail and early voting, as well as improve access to voter registration. This legislation ensures that polling locations and its workers have the resources they need to not only keep themselves safe, but also keep the public safe during this public health crisis. We must act now to protect every American’s basic right to vote and guarantee that when people do vote, they are safe and have equal access to the ballot box.”
“While the health and safety of voters is a top priority during the current public health emergency, we must make sure the pandemic does not impede full, unfettered access to the ballot box,” said Rep. Fudge, Chair of the House Administration Subcommittee on Elections. “Voters must have safe, accessible options and sufficient time to cast their ballots without unnecessary confusion and potential voter disenchantment. Congress has the responsibility to ensure every eligible American can exercise their right to vote. I am proud to cosponsor the VoteSafe Act and any legislation preventing and removing barriers to the ballot box; barriers that have plagued our democracy for far too long.”
This year, multiple primary elections were besieged by public health concerns as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most recently, in Wisconsin, voters experienced long lines and hours-long wait times, after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a court order that would have extended the period for voters to return absentee ballots—forcing many voters to vote in-person at a limited number of polling places. Multiple voters tested positive for COVID-19 after this election.
The VoteSafe Act would:
- Require states to provide no-excuse mail-in absentee voting for the 2020 elections and guarantee minimum due process protections for these voters;
- Require states to maintain an early in-person voting period of at least 20 days for the 2020 elections;
- Authorize $2.5 billion for states to meet their obligations to offer no-excuse absentee voting and early in-person voting; and
- Provide $2.5 billion in additional discretionary grant funding for states to further improve the safety and accessibility of voting options during the pandemic, including:
- Ensuring that elections are accessible to individuals with disabilities.
- Ensuring adequate protections for language minority voters.
- Ensuring voting access for American Indian, Alaska Native, and rural voters.
- Implementing and promoting curbside voting.
- Implementing and meeting a maximum wait time standard or publishing current wait times for voters.
- Providing for the training and recruitment of poll workers.
- Improving access to voter registration.
In addition to Harris, Clyburn, and Fudge, the VoteSafe Act is co-sponsored by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Edward Markey (D-MA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mark Warner (D-VA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR); and Representatives Alma Adams (D-NC), Joyce Beatty (D-OH), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Tony Cardenas (D-CA), Andre’ Carson (D-IN), David Cicilline (D-RI), Gilbert Cisneros (D-CA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Danny Davis (D-IL), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Val Demings (D-FL), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Dwight Evans (D-PA), Chuy Garcia (D-IL), Sylvia Garcia (D-TX), Deb Haaland (D-NM), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Joe Kennedy (D-MA), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Daniel Kildee (D-MI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Andy Levin (D-MI), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Steven Lynch (D-MA), James McGovern (D-MA), Grace Meng (D-NY), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Tim Ryan (D-OH), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Terri Sewell (D-AL), Donna Shalala (D-FL), Darren Soto (D-FL), Mark Takano (D-CA), and Mike Thompson (D-CA).
The bill is endorsed by Alex Padilla, California Secretary of State, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Areva Martin, civil rights attorney, author, and founder of Special Needs Network, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), Asian Law Alliance, Asian Pacific Islander Initiative, Asian Pacific Islander American Vote, Building Healthy Communities East Salinas, California Black Chamber of Commerce, Center for American Progress (CAP), Common Cause, The Daniel Initiative, David Ryu, Los Angeles City Councilmember, End Citizens United Action Fund and Let America Vote, Environmental Health Coalition, Fresno Barrios Unidos, Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce, Greater Sacramento Urban League, Homeboy Industries, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership, Marc Elias, election and voting rights attorney, Mi Familia Vota, Mid-City Community Action Network (Mid-City CAN), Mission Economic Development Agency, MoveOn, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO Educational Fund), National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), Native American Rights Fund (NARF), National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), National Education Association (NEA), New Breath Foundation, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Sacramento LGBT Center, San Diego Organizing Project, San Francisco Faith Community, San Francisco NAACP, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), SEIU Local 2015, UnidosUS, UNITE HERE Local 11, United Farm Workers (UFW), Urban League of San Diego County, Voto Latino, and Working Partnerships USA.
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“Our right to vote is a central pillar of our democracy,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. “Yet despite the hard-fought history to secure voting rights, too many Americans still face unnecessary barriers when trying participate in our democracy. Senator Harris’ VoteSafe Act proposes long overdue election reforms to ensure access to the ballot for all eligible Americans. These common-sense proven policies will be critical to ensuring that our elections in November are accessible, secure, and safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. More voters who vote early, by mail or safely in-person — along with thoughtful public health protocols at voting locations — means shorter lines and a safer voting experience on Election Day for voters, all poll workers, and elections staff alike.”
“Even before this devastating pandemic, our nation was experiencing a sustained period of voter suppression across the states, triggered by the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder,” said Kristen Clarke, President & Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee. “Now, more than ever, we need bold and comprehensive legislation like Senator Harris’ VoteSafe Act, which would both expand options for safe in-person voting and facilitate the expansion of vote by mail in the states. This is critical to protecting the right to vote during this pandemic, especially for African Americans and other people of color.”
“Unless Congress takes immediate action to help upgrade state election systems, the chaos and potentially deadly consequences observed in Wisconsin will likely repeat themselves in states across the country,” said Neera Tanden, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress. “States must act now to expand vote by mail and ensure safe in-person voting so Americans can exercise the fundamental right to vote without risking their health.”
“It’s shocking that even during the COVID-19 pandemic, some states and localities are actively trying to disenfranchise certain voters, especially from communities of color. If Congress doesn’t act to protect our right to vote, millions of Americans could be disenfranchised, and thousands more Americans could get sick by showing up to vote. No one should have to decide between their health and their right to vote,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause. “We appreciate Senator Harris’ leadership in introducing the VoteSafe Act to help ensure that all Americans can safely have their voices heard and votes counted in this year’s elections.”
“No one should ever have to choose between their health and their right to vote,” said Tiffany Muller, President of Let America Vote and End Citizens United. “Senator Kamala Harris’ VoteSafe Act of 2020 is a comprehensive solution to ensure there are safe voting options while also protecting Americans’ access to the ballot box in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. By expanding absentee vote-by-mail options, guaranteeing adequate assistance for language minority voters, and improving polling place management and safety, the VoteSafe Act of 2020 provides the necessary measures and funding for election preparedness during these challenging times. Let America Vote and End Citizens United Action Funds applaud Senator Harris for her bold leadership on a critical issue impacting Americans across the country, and we urge the Senate to act now to pass this bill.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic reaffirms that all people, regardless of the color of their skin or where they were born, need a strong voice in our democracy. Voting is one of the fastest, most efficient ways to voice our vision for the path we want our communities to take in 2020 and beyond. SEIU members applaud Senator Harris for introducing the VoteSafe Act to help states prepare for holding elections during the pandemic in a way that’s safe and accessible for all voters. Having an election that is safe and healthy for every voter no matter where they live is vital to creating a democracy that works for us all,” said Service Employees International Union International (SEIU) President Mary Kay Henry.
Bill text can be found here.
A one pager on the bill can be found here.