Campaign Legal Center (CLC) sent a letter urging Senators to include an additional $3.6 billion in the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act for crucial funding, administered with specific requirements, for the states to ensure our election infrastructure is strong for the 2020 general elections.
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, our elected leaders have the responsibility to ensure Americans do not have to choose between their health and their vote.
Primary elections in states like Wisconsin and Georgia demonstrated clearly what COVID-19 is capable of doing to our democracy. From hourslong lines to buckets of absentee ballots never delivered to voters, many citizens were effectively disenfranchised by the inability of elected officials and election administrators to adequately prepare.
In order to ensure that we don’t repeat the same mistakes, we must anticipate the difficulties COVID-19 posed in the primaries. For that to happen, states will need substantial resources that they do not currently have.
To avoid a total disaster in November and protect the rights of Americans, lawmakers must act swiftly to not only include this funding in the HEROES Act but also specific requirements on how the money should be spent as well as oversight for those expenditures. Here are some of the practical fixes that will ensure citizens can cast their ballots safely, easily, and securely.
Expand Ballot Access:
In a pandemic, a crowded polling place might discourage Americans from showing up to cast their ballot in person. That’s why it’s critical all Americans have the option to cast their ballot from the safety of their own home. The Senate can facilitate this by requiring no-excuse absentee voting and including prepaid postage for all federal vote-by-mail.
In Tennessee, a state without no-excuse absentee voting, CLC is challenging their strict requirements to be eligible to cast an absentee ballot. Two of our clients – one with pre-existing health conditions, and another with an at-risk father at home – are unable to vote by mail under the current absentee voting restrictions and must choose between protecting themselves or their families and exercising their constitutional rights. This is not a choice that should have to be made in a healthy democracy.
Require Notice and Opportunity to Cure for Signature Match Errors on Mail Ballots:
Allowing Americans to vote-by-mail is the first step; the second is making sure their votes count. Too often, ballots cast by mail are thrown out because the signature is considered not to match the one on the voter’s file. This is what happened in Arizona in 2018, where election administrators were disposing of ballots without so much as telling the voter, until CLC successfully challenged the practice in court.
With the expected increase in mail ballots that will need to be processed this year, established procedures must be in place that protect voters from being discriminated against due simply to their penmanship.
This is the case with one of CLC’s current clients in a case against the state of New Jersey. Mr. Riggs, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and can experience difficulty signing his name consistently. Voters like Mr. Riggs deserve to know if their ballot is about to be rejected, and to have the opportunity to affirm their identity so their vote counts.
Prohibit Witness/Notary Requirements for Mail Voting:
Many states also require either another registered voter or a notary public to witness them filling out their vote-by-mail ballot. During a pandemic, this can pose a tremendous barrier to people who live alone and is completely inconsistent with social distancing recommendations. This requirement must be suspended for the November election.
Protecting In-Person Voting and Communities with Irregular Mail Service:
Even with expanded vote-by-mail access, it’s critical that counties maintain enough in-person polling locations to fully accommodate constituents, particularly those with irregular or inadequate mail service. States should have to hold 15 days minimum of in-person voting to prevent prohibitively long lines and congested polling locations, for the safety of its voters and its poll workers.
It’s also critical that states take necessary steps to ensure that voters on Native American reservations and tribal lands, who often lack access to regular mail service, are able to safely cast their ballot. This can involve providing sites on reservations where citizens can request ballots and drop them off securely, on and before election day.
Our democracy works best when everyone participates. The House passed this funding on May 15, 2020. Each day that passes without a Senate vote is one day closer to the November general election. It’s imperative that the Senate act now and provide the states with the resources they need to protect Americans’ constitutional right to vote.
Read CLC's letter here.