Wyden Proposes National Vote-by-Mail Law During Emergencies

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, has introduced a bill to address the risks to American voters and elections posed by the coronavirus (COVID-19), and other outbreaks of infectious diseases or natural disasters.

If 25 percent of states declare a state of emergency related to COVID-19, another infectious disease or natural disaster, the Resilient Elections During Quarantines and Natural Disasters Act of 2020 would require all states to offer an option for voters to mail in or drop-off a hand-marked, paper ballot.

“No voter should have to choose between exercising their constitutional right and putting their health at risk,” Wyden said. “When disaster strikes, the safest route for seniors, individuals with compromised immune systems or other at-risk populations is to provide every voter with a paper ballot they can return by mail or drop-off site. This is a nonpartisan, commonsense solution to the very real threat looming this November.”

Currently 34 states and the District of Columbia offer “no excuse” absentee voting by mail. Even if the 25 percent threshold is not met, governors have the discretion to trigger provisions of the bill within their state by declaring a state of emergency. The bill also requires states to offer postage prepaid self-sealing envelopes to voters. The Resilient Elections Act provides $500 million to fund emergency state vote-by-mail efforts.

“Protecting the integrity of elections and the ability of all citizens to participate freely in them is central to the functioning of our republic,” said Alexandra Chandler of Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan nonprofit working to prevent American democracy from declining to a more authoritarian form of government. “This legislation is an important step forward in safeguarding our elections and the democratic participation of all eligible voters, including those who may be most vulnerable during a crisis. That’s not a partisan priority, it’s an American one.”

A one-page summary of the bill is available here.

A copy of the bill text is available here.