Last month, we watched as Wisconsin attempted to conduct its primaries as usual. The results were disastrous. The Wisconsin Department of Health traced 52 cases of COVID-19 back to in-person voting on April 7. Meanwhile, each state has approached its response to the coronavirus differently, its voting systems included.
Enter Congress and the HEROES Act.
The HEROES Act is the latest federal economic stimulus bill in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among its provisions is a $3.6 billion fund to implement election procedures with safety in mind. Proponents of the bill’s elections provisions argue that these measures will reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 from person-to-person or surface-to-person transmission at polling places.
What does the HEROES Act include?
The elections provisions of the HEROES Act are designed to help states navigate the added challenges of the coronavirus pandemic to voting, while also preparing them for future emergencies. The measures include:
- No-excuse absentee voting in every state: This would allow every registered voter to vote by mail without providing an excuse, and no state would be allowed to restrict a voter’s ability to obtain or cast an absentee ballot (for example, via notarization or witness signatures).
- 15 days minimum for early voting: An extended early voting period would reduce the number of voters at a polling place at any given time, thereby reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19. This would include weekend voting.
- Online and same-day voter registration: Many states already offer same-day voter registration, but online voter registration remains less common. This would also allow voters to edit their existing registration information online, such as after a move.
- Emergency voting plans: Every state must draft a contingency plan for elections to federal offices held during a declared state of emergency. These plans must be made public, and they must be updated every five years.
Free and fair elections are at the heart of our democracy. We cannot ask Americans to choose between their health and their right to vote. Congress must ensure that states have the guidance and the resources available to adjust their election practices in response to COVID-19, and the Heroes Act helps to make that possible.
Call your Senators at 202-224-3121 or 202-224-3091 (TTY) and urge them to vote in favor of the Heroes Act. Americans have a right to safe, secure, and accessible elections, even in the midst of a national emergency.
And don’t forget to check out our collection of voting rights stamps!