'We must make sure the pandemic does not impede full, unfettered access to the ballot box,' said Rep. Marcia Fudge, a lead sponsor of the bill.
Democrats in Congress introduced legislation on Tuesday to prevent Republican voter suppression efforts and protect the ballot box in November. Sen. Kamala Harris of California joined Reps. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina and Marcia Fudge of Ohio to introduce the VoteSafe Act.
"It is critical that we meet voters where they are and ensure that all forms of voting are safe and accessible," Harris said in a Tuesday press statement.
Harris had announced her intent to put forward the legislation in April.
The bill would require states to offer no-excuse absentee ballots, meaning any person can receive a mail-in ballot without having to provide a reason. In addition, every state would be required to allow 20 days of early voting.
"While the health and safety of voters is a top priority during the current public health emergency, we must make sure the pandemic does not impede full, unfettered access to the ballot box," Fudge said in a press release about the bill.
The VoteSafe Act would also provide funding for states to improve voter registration efforts, implement curbside voting, make sure ballots are accessible in different languages and to those with disabilities, and provide training for poll workers. The bill would authorize a total of $5 billion to ensure safer and healthier elections.
Seventeen senators, have already joined her as cosponsors, including former presidential candidates Democrats Cory Booker of New Jersey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, as well as independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
On the House side, 49 Democrats joined Clyburn and Fudge.
No Republicans in Congress have cosponsored the bill.
Republicans have spent years making it harder for citizens to vote. Many of them, like Donald Trump, have even made false allegations of voter fraud.
After the Supreme Court struck down major parts of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, several Republican-led states began changing their voting laws to make it more difficult for people to vote.
A 2013 voter suppression law by Republicans in North Carolina was so egregious and racist that a federal court ruled it unconstitutional, saying it tried to "target African-Americans with almost surgical precision."
During the coronavirus crisis, Republicans have continued such efforts.
In Wisconsin, GOP lawmakers fought a plan by the state's Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to postpone an April 7 election to allow more time for voters to send in absentee ballots. A conservative court sided with Republican lawmakers, forcing thousands of Wisconsin citizens to risk their health in order to vote.
Missouri Republican Gov. Mike Parson said that the coronavirus crisis was not a good enough excuse for residents to request an absentee ballot, adding the attempt to make voting safer "is more a political issue than it is anything."
In Louisiana, Republicans blocked an effort to expand absentee voting because the plan would allow too many people to vote.
"The right to vote is a basic American right," Clyburn said in a statement about the new legislation, "and our democracy depends on our citizens having access to the ballot box."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.