“There is nothing partisan about striving to live up to the promise of our country," the former first lady said

By Claudia Harmata
April 13, 2020 05:04 PM
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Credit: Chuck Kennedy

Michelle Obama wants you to be able to stay home and still vote.

On Monday, the former first lady announced a new initiative with When We All Vote, which she started in 2018 with Tom Hanks, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw and others: The group is backing legislation that would increase vote-by-mail options amid the novel coronavirus pandemic that has forced millions of people indoors and away from public places out of health concerns.

It’s the first time the voting-rights organization has endorsed federal legislation.

“We know that barriers to voting existed before this crisis, especially for young people and communities of color,” Obama, 56, said in a statement, according to The Guardian. “Expanding access to vote-by-mail, online voter registration and early voting are critical steps for this moment — and they’re long overdue.”

“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,” said Obama, who spent much of last year touring with a bestselling memoir, Becoming.

She also traveled to Asia with Julia Roberts to spotlight work on girls’ education access.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama
| Credit: STR/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The legislation that the group plans to support is the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020, which was introduced by Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Ron Wyden. It would ensure that all registered voters are able to vote absentee rather than in person, which is currently a limited option in many states.

When We All Vote also plans to advocate for extended deadlines, as well as allowing voters to request and return mail-in ballots free of charge or with prepaid postage, The Guardian reports.

The group is also calling on legislators to give voters more flexibility regarding where they can cast a ballot during early voting, as some jurisdictions have had to scale back in-person voting polls amid coronavirus concerns.

Obama’s announcement comes just days after she spoke out against Wisconsin for holding elections last week despite a push by Democrats there to delay it or to give more time for mail-in ballots because of the coronavirus.

“Today, Wisconsin voters had to choose between making their voice heard and keeping themselves and their family safe. No American should ever have to make that choice,” Obama wrote on Twitter last week. “We must do better to ensure voting is safe for all voters.”

A voter receives a ballot from a poll worker on Tuesday at the Janesville Mall in Janesville, Wisconsin
| Credit: Angela Major/The Janesville Gazette via AP

Valerie Jarrett, a family friend of the Obamas and board chair of When We All Vote told the political news site Axios that she found the situation in Wisconsin “deeply, profoundly concerning.”

“Our goal is to just try to make sure we maximize the number of citizens who can participate in that most fundamental and important responsibility,” she said.

According to Jarrett, the group is also encouraging people to call or email their representatives in Congress to express support for expanded access to vote-by-mail — a push being supported by groups like RepresentUs and stars like Jennifer Lawrence.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed without evidence that allowing vote by mail would lead to increased voter fraud.

He cast his own ballot by mail for Florida’s primary in March.