We are 63 days away from the most important election in our lifetime. The gravity of this election, and what it means for the future of our democracy, can be felt across America. To put it simply, too much is on the line to get the administration of the election wrong. Getting it right will not be easy. It will take expanding voting by mail and recruiting a new generation of poll workers.
Our elections remain under threat from foreign adversaries, and we are facing an unprecedented pandemic that is changing the way Americans vote. Unprecedented steps are underway to make it safe and easy to vote, including increasing our country’s capacity to allow Americans to cast a ballot by mail. That’s why Congress should pass my legislation, The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act, to provide desperately needed resources and baseline standards to ensure every American has equal access to voting by mail. Because it is better to put ballots in mailboxes than people in hospitals.
My legislation provides critical resources to states and knocks down barriers to voting by mail, like requirements for witness signatures and notarization of ballots. It would also help protect against those trying to undermine the United States Postal Service by requiring all states to set up secure ballot drop boxes at least 45 days before the election. Voting by mail is a safe and easy way to vote this election, but it is not a silver bullet.
Millions of Americans will also need safe polling locations to exercise their right to vote in November, and we won’t be able to provide well-organized in-person voting without a new generation of poll workers.
We’ve seen the chaos and disenfranchisement that will happen in November if we don’t have well-trained and well-staffed polling locations. The Wisconsin primary will forever be etched in the memory of our nation. Voters stood for hours in the cold and rain wearing garbage bags and homemade masks to vote. There was unnecessary crowding with lines wrapping around blocks. As a result, voters were disenfranchised and some even contracted the coronavirus. Black neighborhoods in Milwaukee were disproportionately hurt. In a democracy, this is unacceptable. It is also avoidable.
What is one of the top things we can do to prevent what happened in Wisconsin from happening all over the country this November? Recruit and train new poll workers.
The majority of poll workers are over the age of 60, and more than a quarter of them are over the age of 71. These poll workers have stepped up for years to make our democracy work, and they are heroes. Now, because older people are more vulnerable to COVID-19, we must hire a new generation of heroes to staff our polls. This will take a national effort, and my legislation would give states the funding to get it done. It would also require state and local governments to establish a contingency plan for recruiting poll workers.
Others are leading on this effort too. LeBron James started a new organization, More Than a Vote, and he is investing resources to recruit poll workers in predominantly Black districts. This initiative is critical because one of the main reasons many states drastically consolidated polling locations during primaries is because of poll worker shortages, disproportionally hurting voters of color. By making sure that polling locations — including those giant NBA arenas — are fully staffed, we can protect the right to vote in all neighborhoods.
Mr. James joins other leaders like Michelle Obama, Eric Holder and Stacey Abrams, who have started organizations devoted to protecting the right to vote. The United States Election Assistance Commission is working to help election officials adapt during the pandemic, and they have stepped up by establishing today as National Poll Worker Recruitment Day. This work is shining a light on the desperate need for new poll workers, but more must be done. That is why I am introducing a resolution to formally recognize September 1st as National Poll Worker Recruitment Day to encourage people to sign up to work the polls on Nov. 3.
A resolution to raise awareness about the need for poll workers is good — but money to actually hire them is better. Congress has provided $400 million in emergency election funding thus far, but that didn’t even cover the cost of basic things like protective equipment. There is still time to provide additional funding so we can avoid chaos and ensure no American has to choose between their health and their right to vote.
It’s time to roll up our sleeves and work across the aisle to protect our elections from this virus. The future of our democracy depends on it.
Senator Amy Klobuchar represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate and is the top Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee with jurisdiction over federal elections.