Former first lady Michelle Obama and the non-partisan organization she co-chairs on Monday threw its support behind Democratic legislation seeking to expand access to mail-in voting and early voting amid the coronavirus outbreak in the US.
“Americans should never have to choose between making their voices heard and keeping themselves and their families safe,” Obama said in a statement. “Expanding access to vote-by-mail, online voter registration and early voting are critical steps for this moment – and they’re long overdue.”
The effort backed by the former first lady comes as Democrats increase their calls for states to expand mail-in and early voting, while some Republicans have echoed President Donald Trump’s opposition to expanding the practice amid the coronavirus pandemic. The crisis has caused scores of large gatherings to be canceled or postponed, including primary contests, several of which have been pushed into the summer.
As the calls have increased, Trump has repeatedly dismissed the notion of a nationwide vote-by-mail system and falsely claimed that mail-in voting is the source of widespread voter fraud.
Obama’s statement, released by When We All Vote, a nonpartisan organization committed to voter registration she co-chairs, said, “there is nothing partisan about striving to live up to the promise of our country; making the democracy we all cherish more accessible; and protecting our neighbors, friends and loved ones as they participate in this cornerstone of American life.”
The Democratic legislation Obama and When We All Vote are putting their support behind seeks to put in place national standards for voting in this year’s presidential election and would require states to offer absentee voting to all voters, allow voters to request ballots electronically, and allow ballots to be requested up to five days before an election.
The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020, introduced last month by Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, would ensure voters in all states have 20 days of early in-person voting and be able to vote by mail, regardless of the reason. The bill would also aim to “guarantee that all voter registration applications submitted by mail or online, up until and 21 days prior to Election Day, are deemed valid.”
Obama rarely publicly voices her political views, and this is the first time the organization has put their support behind any legislation. In previous years, Obama has urged Americans to participate in elections, including in 2018, when she said at an event that she is “sick of all the chaos and the nastiness of our politics,” but that the importance of voting still remains.
Already, at least one election has taken place during the pandemic, with voters in Wisconsin, many of them wearing face masks, participating in the state’s primary last week.
Republicans had insisted on keeping the election on schedule, and won two legal battles the day before it took place, with the state Supreme Court blocking Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ bid to delay it until June and the US Supreme Court reversing a lower court’s ruling that gave voters six extra days to return their ballots by mail.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect that When We All Vote revised its press release to say it is supporting the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act.
CNN’s Eric Bradner and Dan Merica contributed to this report.