Ensuring Safe, Secure Elections
Committee on House Administration Chairperson Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) introduced H.R. 7427, the ACCESS Act, to ensure every eligible American is able to exercise their right to vote safely and securely during a declared state of emergency. The ACCESS Act ensures that states are prepared to hold Federal elections and safeguard the nation’s democracy and public health in the event of a natural disaster, infectious disease outbreak, or other instance in which voters risk their wellbeing for their right to vote.
This important legislation was included in the Heroes Act, legislation passed by the House in May to address the deadly coronavirus pandemic, but has stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The ACCESS Act protects our free and fair democracy in emergencies through:
- Increased access to vote-by-mail: Establishes a nationwide standard allowing every voter to vote by absentee ballot without requiring the voter to provide an excuse (“no excuse” absentee voting) and prohibits states from imposing restrictions (such as notarization or witness signatures) on a voter’s ability to obtain or cast a ballot by mail. It allows sworn statements to meet state voter identification requirements for mail and in- person voting. In states that match signatures, the bill requires voters be given the opportunity to cure any signature mismatch issues before their ballot is not counted. Voters must be allowed to request an absentee ballot online. Voters also have the option to select permanent absentee status.
- Expanded early voting: Gives voters greater opportunities to cast their ballot by increasing opportunities for early voting, setting a nationwide minimum of 15 consecutive days of early voting prior to a Federal election, including weekends.
- Emergency vote-by-mail: In the event of an emergency or disaster that occurs 120 to 30 days before an election, the state or local election official shall transmit absentee ballots and balloting materials by mail with a self-sealing envelope and prepaid return postage to every registered voter at least 2 weeks before the election.
- State emergency planning: Requires states and jurisdictions responsible for administering elections for Federal office to establish and publicize contingency plans to enable Americans to vote during a declared state of emergency, including for reasons of a natural disaster or infectious disease. States and jurisdictions are required to update these plans at least every 5 years.
- Electronic delivery of absentee ballots: In the event of an emergency that occurs within days of an election, the bill outlines the criteria and circumstances under which a state shall electronically transmit blank absentee ballots to otherwise eligible voters.
- Return ballot deadlines: States that any ballot postmarked on or before the date of the election must be accepted at meeting the ballot return deadline. A voter may return their ballot to a polling place on election day or deliver it to a designated ballot drop-off location. Voters may also designate a person to return a voted and sealed ballot to designated locations, including the post office.
- Prepaid postage: Requires return postage for ballots cast by mail, absentee ballot applications, and voter registration applications to be provided with self-sealing envelopes.
- Ballot tracking system: Requires states to establish an absentee ballot tracking program for Federal elections to allow voters to check on the status of their ballots.
- Increased access to voter registration: Requires the availability of online voter registration and allows for the correction of existing registration information.
- Accommodations for voters residing on Indian lands: Given the widespread lack of residential mail delivery in Indian Country, this legislation allows Indian Tribes to designate buildings as ballot pick-up and collection locations, at no cost to the Indian Tribes. The bill requires states or political subdivisions to provide mail-in and absentee ballots to registered voters who reside on Indian lands without requiring a residential address or an absentee ballot request. The bill also allows the use of a designated build as a residential and mailing address for voters, as well as expands language protections.
- Funding: Makes funds available to states to cover the costs of complying with the bill, and requires a pass-through of funds to local jurisdictions and Tribal governments. This legislation provides funding to states to cover the costs of educating the public about the provisions of this bill, and makes available an additional $20 million in grant money to states that choose to implement risk-limiting audits.
This legislation will ensure minority communities, which have been disproportionately impacted and disenfranchised due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have equal access to Federal elections.
The ACCESS Act builds on the progress House Democrats have made in protecting our nation’s elections for Federal office during the COVID-19 pandemic. In May, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 6800, the Heroes Act which would authorize $3.6 billion to assist state and local election officials to put into place much-needed protections for voters and poll workers ahead of 2020 Federal elections.
From Chairperson Lofgren:
“An election that forces voters to choose between protecting their health and casting their ballot is not a free and fair election. It is clear that state and local election officials simply do not have the resources necessary to process a predictable, yet understandably massive surge in requests for vote by mail ballots.
“Congress cannot sit idly by. There is an urgent need to protect the integrity and sanctity of our elections. Moving forward, we must appropriate sufficient funding for state and local election officials to carry out orderly and safe elections. Expanding early voting, increasing vote-by-mail, and standardizing aspects of this system will safeguard our federal elections. These are commonsense policies, recommended universally by nonpartisan election experts, to ensure all eligible voters can exercise their right to vote without exposing themselves to a deadly virus. There should be no controversy in expeditiously ensuring their adoption across the nation. This bill will help to prepare our state and local jurisdictions with the resources they need for this upcoming Election Day.”
Click here for the text of H.R. 7427, the ACCESS Act.
Click here for the text of H.R. 6800, the Heroes Act.
Click here for a summary of the elections provisions included in H.R. 6800, the Heroes Act.