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‘Labor Rights and Voting Rights are Deeply Interconnected’

Photo Credit: Getty / Darylann Elmi
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AFSCME President Lee Saunders and other labor leaders joined U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) this week to discuss the challenges to protecting voting rights during the COVID-19 pandemic and solutions to ensure that elections withstand national emergencies.

Joining Saunders and the former Democratic presidential candidate on a press call Wednesday were AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, AFT President Randi Weingarten, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García and SEIU President Mary Kay Henry.

Klobuchar and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) have introduced The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act, which has AFSCME’s backing.

The bill expands early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail to all states, allowing voters who don’t receive absentee ballots to use printable ballots currently provided only to military and overseas voters. Under the measure, states would be reimbursed for additional costs they incur in administering elections during the pandemic.

“Labor rights and voting rights are deeply interconnected. When there is free and unfettered access to the ballot box, then an agenda that lifts up working people prevails. When we expand political participation, that’s when we elect people who believe in an economy that works for everyone,” Saunders said.

The lack of voting options in many states and insufficient emergency ballot procedures risk leaving many voters disenfranchised. To date, 16 states have either delayed primary elections due to COVID-19 or switched to all mail-in voting, according to Klobuchar and Wyden.

Among its many provisions, the bill would:

“The other side doesn’t care about the integrity of our elections; they care about accumulating power by any means necessary,” Saunders said. “They’ve shown that they will stop at absolutely nothing to suppress the vote and threaten our democracy, even putting lives at risk.”

In a New York Times op-ed, Klobuchar wrote that her 52-year-old husband, John, recovered recently from COVID-19.

“Public health officials have warned us that we simply don’t know how long it will last – or if there will be a second, third or fourth wave once we reopen businesses and resume our lives. And many of those same experts will tell you that many Americans will still be at risk on Nov. 3,” she wrote. “That is why we must reform our election systems, so that sheltering in place can also mean voting in place. And we must do it now, while we still have the time to preserve everyone’s ability to vote in November.”

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