Summary of the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020

Reading a 57-page legislative document is daunting, even for enthusiasts. Help is on the way!

Here is a quick-read summary of this vitally important piece of legislation submitted by Senators Klobuchar and Wyden: the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020. 

Please keep in mind, this is an unofficial summary* of the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020 compiled by U.S. Vote Foundation. You can download the legislation [here].

Summary of the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020

Section 2  REQUIREMENTS FOR FEDERAL ELECTION CONTINGENCY PLANS INCLUDING ONLINE ABSENTEE BALLOT REQUEST

  • States must create and maintain, at 5 year intervals, contingency plans for Federal level voting in the event of natural disasters and pandemics.

  • Plans must address health and safety of poll workers and in-person voters.

  • For the Nov 2020 election and beyond: states must create plans to recruit from less affected populations (non-elderly) including students and state and local government officials.

  • Plans must enable voters to request an absentee ballot online, with absentee ballots to be returned by mail or at designated drop boxes and locations. 

  • The Attorney General can bring civil action against a state or jurisdiction in violation, individuals can submit written notice of violation to their state's chief election official. 

 

Section 3  EARLY VOTING AND NO-EXCUSE ABSENTEE VOTING

  • Amends Title III of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (52 U.S.C. 21081) to include early voting and mail in ballots by adding Subtitle C—Additional 7 Requirements which includes the following:

    • States must allow early voting for the 2020 general election and future elections.

    • Early voting is available 8 hours a day, for 20 consecutive weekdays prior to election including at least one weekend, with each location having a ballot drop box. 

    • Vote by mail must not have requirements for excuses, notarization/witness signature, or identification.

    • An online ballot request option must be provided.

    • Ballots shall be mailed out for requests made at least 5 business days in advance of the election.

    • Permits voters to designate a person to submit their absentee ballot on their behalf; and does not limit the number of ballots a designated person can return.
    • States must count ballots mailed on or before the election day polls close and received up to 10 days after election day. 

    • States may begin processing ballots at least 14 days prior to election, but not tabulate before polls close.

  • Private Right of Action—Title IV of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (52 U.S.C. 21111 et seq.) is amended by adding SEC. 403:

    • Individuals may provide written notice of violation to their state's chief election official.

    • Relief: If violation is not corrected within 20 days of receipt of notice, or within 5 days if the receipt was issued within 120 days before Federal election, the aggrieved person may get relief via civil action.

    • Special Rule: If a violation occurred within 5 days before the Federal election, civil action can occur without giving written notice to the state's chief election official.

 

Section 4-5  DOWNLOADABLE AND PRINTABLE ABSENTEE BALLOTS

  • For voters who are disabled or who do not receive their requested ballot. Section 4 amends the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) (52 U.S.C. 20301 et seq.) to require downloadable and printable absentee ballots by adding SEC. 103C which contains the following: 

    • For the Nov 2020 election and following Federal elections, each state must allow qualified individuals to use downloadable and printable absentee ballots.

    • Current Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot available under UOCAVA must be used until the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) has made available a domestic version. EAC version must be available by 2022.
    • Ballots must comply with existing language and disability requirements.

    • Use of Federal absentee ballots by qualified individuals carried out in the same manner as overseas and military voters. 

    • Free postage for these ballots. 

    • No restrictions on ballot acceptance by states based on notarization/witness signature, paper type, or envelope type. 

    • Qualified individuals are eligible voters who have requested an absentee ballot but have not received it by 2 days before the election and/or are disabled, hospitalized or will be hospitalized, will be absent due to work or volunteering in response to emergency. 

    • Individuals can self-certify that they have a disability.

    • When domestic version is available: qualifications for individuals include eligible voters who reside in an area where an emergency or natural disaster, or disease, has been declared by a Governor or chief state/local government official up to 5 days before election. 

 

Section 6  RETURN ENVELOPES WITH PRE-PAID POSTAGE AND BARCODE

  • Amends Subtitle C of title III of the Help 8 America Vote Act of 2002 to require prepaid return envelopes for absentee ballots by adding SEC. 323 which contains the following:

    • For all voter registration or absentee ballot applications, or for blank absentee ballots, the state and local jurisdictions must provide return envelopes with prepaid postage or arrange for the state to reimburse USPS the cost of postage.

    • For the Nov 2020 and following Federal elections states and jurisdictions must provide a return envelope with USPS's Intelligent Mail barcode, unless they have developed a system for voters to track their mail-in absentee ballots.

    • Section goes into effect 60 days after this Act is enacted.

 

Section 7  BALLOT TRACKING

  • Outlines the list of requirements for development of a secure federal portal that enables election officials to update domestic and overseas voters with ballot info through email or mail. 

  • Must be developed and established no later than Jan 1, 2024, provide tracking of application and ballot tracking dates, and ballot status.

  • Presidential designee shall reimburse state and local jurisdictions for costs, authorization for Presidential designee to access funds necessary without fiscal year limitation.

 

Section 8  SIGNATURE MISMATCH AND CURING

  • Amends Subtitle C of title III of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 with notice and cure requirements for mismatched signatures by adding SEC. 324 which contains the following:

    • If a discrepancy exists between envelope signature and ballot signature (or an accompanying verification document) the election official must make a good faith attempt to notify the voter by at least two methods - mail, phone, email or text message and allow for the signature to be cured.

    • To cure a ballot, information or confirmation must be done by 10 days following notification; if rejected, voters can appeal.

    • Voters have until the day before certification of election results to provide confirmation of their signature orally, electronically or in writing. No separate oath or affirmation is required.

    • Within 120 days of the end of a Federal election cycle the chief state election officials must report on ballot discrepancies, notifications, and cure process.

  • Section goes into effect for the Nov 2020 cycle and following Federal elections.

 

Section 9 VOTER REGISTRATON REQUIREMENTS

  • Amends Subtitle C of title III of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 with new voter registration requirements by adding SEC. 325 which includes the following:

    • Registration applications submitted in person, online, or by mail at least 21 days before Federal election must be accepted and processed and states or jurisdictions may still do so after the required period.

    • Voter registration applications provided by the state must allow for voters to register by mail. 

  • Section does not apply to states or jurisdictions that have registration during early voting and/or same day registration.

  • Section goes into effect 60 days after the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020 is enacted. 

 

Section 10  ACCOMODATIONS: VOTERS LIVING IN TRIBAL LANDS

  • Gives accommodations for voters living in Indian lands for Federal elections in 2020 and beyond:

    • Tribes may designate one building location per precinct for ballot pickup and collection, at no cost to Tribe and precinct maps to be provided to Tribes 60 days before elections.

    • State or political subdivision must provide mail-in and absentee ballots to all registered voters without absentee ballot requests, and may not have address requirements.  

    • The designated ballot pickup/collection building locations may serve as the residential address for voters in that precinct, if no designated building in voter’s precinct another may be used and the appropriate precinct designated for voter.

    • Certain states or subdivisions must provide bilingual written voting materials and bilingual verbal assistance.

 

Section 11  REIMBURSEMENTS TO STATES

  • Amends Title II of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (52 U.S.C. 21001 et seq.) and adds Part 9:

    • Reimburses states for the cost of implementing changes outlined in the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020.

 

Section 12  EAC APPROPRIATION

  • In addition to EAC funding for 2020, $3million authorized for 2020 for the Commission to assist states.

  • No fiscal year limitation on the additional funds.

 

*Note: U.S. Vote Foundation does not guarantee the completeness or accuracy of this unofficial summary.