April 16, 2020

Harris Announces VoteSafe Act to Protect Voters Amid COVID-19 Crisis

Provides nationwide early voting. Expands vote-by-mail. Improves the safety of polling places. 

WASHINGTON, D.C.U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Thursday announced the VoteSafe Act, legislation that expands voting options and improves the safety and accessibility of polling places across the nation. The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the need to protect and expand voting rights.

“So many have marched, protested, fought and died for the fundamental right to vote, yet that right is under attack,” said Harris. “The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the obstacles many already face when voting. Even before the pandemic, Native Americans, Black and Latinx voters, and voters with disabilities too often faced long lines, inaccessible voting locations, and outright hostility by election officials. I’m proud to announce the VoteSafe Act because the American people deserve a comprehensive solution to ensure that voting is safe and accessible.”

The bill is endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), NALEO Educational Fund, National Disability Rights Network, Native American Rights Fund, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC).

“As we have seen nationwide in postponed or chaotic primaries, states are either unprepared or, sadly, unwilling to address COVID-19’s impact on our elections. The images of voters waiting in rain and hail in the midst of the current public health crisis just to be able to vote, and reports of absentee voters who did not receive their ballots in time, are antithetical to American democratic values,” said Sonia Gill, Senior Legislative Counsel, National Political Advocacy Department of ACLU. “We need baseline federal standards to ensure the safety of both the public and our democracy, and the necessary funding to give states the flexibility to meet the needs of their voters. The VoteSafe Act does this by helping to make voting safe and accessible for all voters, including those who will face the greatest impediments to casting their ballots during the pandemic. This legislation helps ensure voters are not forced to choose between casting their ballots and protecting their health.” 

“As the world’s leading democracy, it is the responsibility of the United States to conduct fair elections at all times, and especially during a time of national emergency. It is critical that we ensure a voting process that is safe, secure, and open to all qualified voters, in spite of the challenges we face,” said Arturo Vargas, Chief Executive Officer of NALEO Educational Fund. “NALEO Educational Fund is pleased to support this legislation that will provide welcome, needed federal support to the thousands of state and local election administrators who are working tirelessly to serve Latinos and all voters.”

“As a Nation, we have to ensure every citizen has a fair chance to vote. Since countless Native Americans do not receive mail delivery many Native Americans will not have the option to cast a ballot from the safety of their homes. The VoteSafe Act includes necessary and overdue provisions that will increase access to the ballot box for Native Americans even during these challenging times,” said Jacqueline De León, Staff Attorney, Native American Rights Fund.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created extraordinary challenges for American voters this year,” said NDRN Executive Director Curt Decker. “The VoteSafe Act of 2020 will improve the integrity of our elections, ensure the health and safety of voters, and expand opportunities for people with disabilities to cast a private and independent ballot.”

Other voting rights leaders have voiced their support for the bill.

“Last week’s election in Wisconsin made evident that we must move quickly and decisively to ensure during this COVID-19 pandemic that voters will not have to choose between their health and safety, and exercising their fundamental right as citizens to vote. For African American voters who have been disproportionately affected by the virus and its deadly effects, and for whom the right to vote was hard won at the cost of thousands of lives, it is particularly important that Congress ensure that there are options like expanded early voting, as well as safe, secure alternatives to in-person voting, to ensure that every eligible African American voter has the opportunity to cast their vote in November,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

“In America, no one should have to choose between their vote and their safety. The recent election in Wisconsin clearly shows that changes are needed. The VoteSafe Act of 2020 moves the country closer toward safe in-person and absentee voting options which remain essential for the 2020 elections to be truly fair and accessible. The bill provides urgent funding for states to meet their obligations to offer voters a range of options to guarantee full access to the ballot box. It also includes important protections for in-person voting for Native Americans, people with disabilities, and language accessibility. We must ensure everyone stays healthy while also ensuring that every eligible voter can register and cast a ballot that counts,” said Vanita Gupta, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

“Throughout my career, I’ve seen intentional voter suppression and intimidation used to minimize turnout and sway elections. If Congress doesn’t act, this pandemic threatens to achieve those same ends by preventing people from voting, especially communities of color or those in low-income or rural areas,” said election and voting rights attorney Marc Elias. “Senator Harris’s VoteSafe Act not only gives the necessary resources to make voting safer and more accessible, but it offers a framework that can make voting easier long-past the pandemic. With elections right around the corner, Congress should pass this bill soon.”  

The VoteSafe Act of 2020 would:

  • Authorize $5 billion to expand vote-by-mail and early voting and to improve the safety and accessibility of polling places during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Require states to permit no-excuse mail-in absentee voting.
  • Require states to maintain an early voting period of at least 20 days.
  • Provide grants for states to improve the safety, efficiency, and reliability of polling places in the following ways:
    • 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.

Bill text can be found here.

A one pager on the bill can be found here.

###