As Pandemic Pushes More Colleges to Remote Learning, Bennet Proposal to Help Students Vote During Pandemic Reaches 18 Senate Cosponsors
Lake City, Colorado – U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) along with U.S. Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) continue to build support for their National Emergency Student Vote Act, legislation to help college students exercise their right to vote in the 2020 elections even as millions are displaced from campus due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Since the bill’s introduction last month, 14 additional senators have cosponsored the bill and 10 additional representatives have cosponsored the companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
This week, the pandemic forced UNC-Chapel Hill to abruptly shift to online learning, joining a growing number of colleges and universities across the country. As more colleges and universities close their campuses this fall, it will disperse millions of students nationwide.
Nationwide, there are roughly 20 million voting-eligible college students in America, more than every registered voter in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, and Colorado combined. Many college students are first-time voters, and navigating questions about where and how they can register and vote is complicated under normal conditions. The pandemic has only made this harder. The National Emergency Student Vote Act, which Bennet first introduced in July, will guarantee that even if students are not on campus this fall, colleges and universities would still have to share resources to help them register to vote, request absentee ballots, and exercise their different options to vote.
“We cannot allow the pandemic to become another barrier for 20 million college students to exercise their fundamental right to vote,” said Bennet. “The National Emergency Student Vote Act calls on America’s colleges and universities to help students access the voter registration forms, absentee ballot applications, and other resources they need to cast their ballot and shape the future of our democracy. Our bill continues to gain support because people across the country understand that young Americans need a voice in this election that matches their profound stakes in its outcome."
The legislation is supported by NASPA, Young Invincibles, Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project, End Citizens United/Let America Vote Action Fund, Common Cause, Public Citizen, New Era Colorado, Generation Citizen, and National Education Association (NEA).
In addition to Bennet, Klobuchar, Durbin, and Booker, the bill is now cosponsored by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
In addition to Krishnamoorthi, the bill is now cosponsored by U.S. Representatives Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), André Carson (D-Ind.), Katherine Porter (D-Calif.), Jahana Hayes (D-Ct.), and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).
The National Emergency Student Vote Act would:
- Help students register to vote. Under the Higher Education Act, colleges and universities are already required to send students “physically in attendance” voter registration forms where they attend school. The National Emergency Student Vote Act modifies the requirement to clarify that even if students are not physically on campus, colleges and universities should still provide them with the national mail registration form, along with credible, nonpartisan resources to help them determine where they are eligible to vote.
- Help students request absentee ballots. The bill says that if a college or university has asked or encouraged students to remain off-campus, it would have to send absentee ballot applications to students along with clear instructions that they are only for those eligible to vote in that state. At the same time, it would also share credible, nonpartisan resources (i.e. Vote.org) to help students registered elsewhere apply for absentee ballots if they wish.
- Help students cast their ballots. Thirty days before the election, colleges and universities would have to remind students about election-related requirements and deadlines, including deadlines to submit absentee ballots, along with current and credible information to help students understand all their options to vote, such as early voting and Election Day voting.
- Colleges and universities can satisfy each of the provisions above with a dedicated email to students containing the relevant information.