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House Democrats propose $3.6 billion for expanding voter access

More vote-by-mail money included plus ability to sue jurisdictions that don't prepare for voting under national emergency

Voters fill out their ballots at Loudoun County High School in Leesburg, Va., on Nov. 6, 2018.
Voters fill out their ballots at Loudoun County High School in Leesburg, Va., on Nov. 6, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled another massive legislative proposal to address the far-reaching consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and included more than $3 billion in the bill to provide federal grants to states to address election preparedness and expand voting by mail. 

The proposal (HR 6800) put together by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her top lieutenants has already been rejected out of hand by Republicans in both chambers, who have called the bill a wish list that would die in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Nevertheless, Democrats in both chambers said they backed the proposal, which is part of a $3 trillion package. It would be the fifth coronavirus relief package, if it were to pass.

On the election front, the bill would provide $3.6 billion in federal grants to states and election jurisdictions and require the local governments to prepare contingency plans that would enable voting during national emergencies. The plans would also require states to protect the health of poll workers and take steps to recruit people from “resilient and unaffected populations.”

In a far-reaching provision, the proposal would also allow citizens to bring lawsuits against states and jurisdictions that fail to comply with preparing to conduct elections during national emergencies.

[Pandemic pushes states to vote-by-mail, bringing new challenges]

The proposed legislation also would require all states and jurisdictions to allow vote-by-mail and provide 15 days of early voting during federal elections, starting with the November presidential election. The provision would ensure that “every voter can access no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail,” according to the draft legislation.

The bill would prohibit states from imposing additional conditions or new requirements to qualify for voting-by-mail by already eligible voters.

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