Senate Introduces No-Excuse Vote-by-Mail Bill to Address Pandemics and Disasters

On March 18, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Senators Klobuchar (D-MN) and Wyden (D-OR) introduced Senate Bill 3529, the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act (NDEBA) of 2020. [US Vote Bill Summary] [View/Download SB 3529]

The bill intends to provide a timely and "commonsense solution" to our ability to conduct the 2020 and future elections in the face of pandemics, emergencies and increasing natural disasters. U.S. Vote Foundation is pleased to see this action as a response to what our Foundation has called in our recent statement calling for broadened vote-by-mail services to ensure voters the ability to vote safely, without threat of disease or danger of any kind.

NDEBA calls for expanded no-excuse vote-by-mail absentee balloting and early voting. It outlines a comprehensive set of actions including, ballot tracking, signature verification and "curing", as well as emergency ballot procedures for voters whose requested ballots do not arrive in time. 

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Senator Klobuchar's Summary is as follows:

Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act (NDEBA) of 2020

Sponsored by Senators Klobuchar and Wyden and

Senators: Hirono, Baldwin, Coons, Sanders, Markey, Van Hollen, Booker,
Smith, Harris, Jones, Feinstein, Peters, Durbin, Merkley, Murphy, Stabenow,
Blumenthal, Warner, Murray, Heinrich, Udall, Warren, Duckworth, and Cantwell

Problem: Ohio, Louisiana, Georgia, Maryland, and Kentucky have delayed their presidential primary elections due to the COVID-19 coronavirus. The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act (NDEBA) represents a commonsense solution to ensuring the 2020 elections and future elections are resilient to emergencies, including natural disasters and pandemics, and that we are protecting the voting rights of those in harm’s way as well as emergency responders. Natural disasters and public health emergencies are occurring more frequently and with greater impact than ever before, affecting the ability of victims and first responders to vote on Election Day. The lack of voting options in many states and sufficient emergency ballot procedures leaves many voters disenfranchised. COVID-19, hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and wildfires in the Western United States are recent examples of the damage and disruption that public health emergencies and natural disasters can cause.

The bill would specifically:

  • Ensure that voters in all states have 20 days of early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail and ensure states begin processing (but not counting) votes cast during early voting or by mail 14 days before Election Day to avoid delays in counting votes on Election Day.
  • Guarantee that all voter registration applications submitted by mail or online, up until and 21 days prior to Election Day, are deemed valid. Any state may have a deadline closer to Election Day.
  • Require states and jurisdictions to establish a publicly available contingency plan to enable eligible Americans to vote in the case of an emergency and establish an initiative to recruit poll workers from high schools and colleges as well as from other State and local government offices. 
  • Provide all voters with the option of online requests for absentee ballots and require states to accept requests received up until and 5 days prior to Election Day. Any state may have a deadline closer to Election Day.
  • Guarantee the counting of absentee ballots postmarked or signed before the close of the polls on Election Day and received up until and on the 10th day following Election Day.
  • Ensure states provide self-sealing envelopes with prepaid postage for all voters who request a voter registration application, absentee ballot application, or an absentee ballot.
  • Require states to offer their downloadable and printable absentee ballots currently made available to military and overseas voters, to domestic voters who (1) requested but did not receive an absentee ballot for the 2020 election and (2) to voters with disabilities who requested an absentee ballot and reside in a state that does not offer secure accessible remote ballot marking technology.
  • Charge the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) with creating a uniform domestic downloadable and printable absentee ballot that can be used starting in 2022.
  • Direct all states that do not already use ballot tracking systems to use envelopes with an Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) to allow voters to track their ballot for the 2020 and successive elections.
  • Charge the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), in consultation with the General Services Administration (GSA), EAC, the United States Postal Service, and states to create a domestic ballot update service for election officials to provide voters with updates on their ballot for the 2024 elections and beyond.
  • Ensure states implement a specified signature curing procedure for voters.
  • Provide additional accommodations for Native American voters including allowing tribes to designate ballot pickup and drop-off locations and not requiring residential address for election mail.
  • Authorize funds necessary to reimburse states for the cost of implementing the Act, such as providing absentee ballots and prepaid postage, and purchasing additional ballot scanners and absentee ballot drop boxes.
  • Authorize funds necessary to reimburse states for the cost of developing or purchasing and implementing secure remote ballot marking to enable voters with disabilities to mark their ballots at home and vote by mail.
  • Provide $3 million in additional funds to the EAC for supporting states in implementing the Act.
  • All requirements will go into effect for the 2020 general election and thereafter.

Source: Office of Senator Amy Klobuchar