Washington, D.C. – Backed by a broad coalition of voting rights groups, Oregon’s Senators Ron Wyden, Jeff Merkley and Representative Earl Blumenauer and David Cicilline, D-R.I., today introduced a new bill to expand Oregon-style vote-by-mail nationwide and cut through bogus obstacles to voting.
“Too many states are making working Americans, people of color, young people and those with disabilities go to absurd lengths just to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” Wyden said. “When fewer Americans vote, the special interests and big businesses win and everyone else loses. Government can never truly represent the American people if citizens don’t have the opportunity to have their voices heard at the ballot box.”
“Voting is our most sacred and fundamental right as Americans,” said Merkley. “Instead of making it harder to vote, as far too many states across the country have done, we should make it easier – just like in Oregon. Automatic registration combined with vote-by-mail eliminates the absurd obstacle courses that face would-be voters in too many states, and instead makes the process easy and convenient, just as it should be. Every American already submits the information that’s needed to register to vote when they sign up for a driver’s license at the DMV. It’s time we followed Oregon’s example nationally and automatically empowered Americans to exercise this fundamental democratic right.”
“Making sure all Americans have the ability to exercise their right to vote is critical to our Democratic process. Our home state has always been a leader in innovative voting rights policy, and this legislation provides a pathway for the federal government to follow Oregon’s model program,” said Blumenauer. “There is no better time to provide more options for Americans to vote.”
“In our democracy, it is absolutely critical that every American have the opportunity to make their voices heard at the ballot box,” said Cicilline, who earlier this year introduced the Automatic Voter Registration Act, which is included as part of this new legislation. “Too many politicians are trying to make it harder than ever for urban, minority, and young voters to participate. I’m proud to co-sponsor this bill in order to ensure that every American has the opportunity to vote by mail if they’re not able to make it to the polls on Election Day.”
This year alone, 17 states have added new voting restrictions. Throughout this primary season, voters have reported hours-long lines, purged voting rolls and limited polling places in states across the country.
The American Association of People with Disabilities, American Civil Liberties Union, Common Cause and National Association of Letter Carriers announced their support for Wyden’s legislation.
The Vote By Mail Act requires every state to provide registered voters the opportunity to vote by mail. All registered voters will receive ballots in the mail weeks before Election Day, allowing them to carefully research candidates well ahead of time. By providing the opportunity to cast ballots in the mail, voters will be able to avoid long lines at polling stations and won’t have to take time off work to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote. The federal government, through the Unites States Postal Service, will assist states with the costs of mailing ballots to registered voters. The bill text is available here. A one-page summary is available here.
Building on Oregon’s automatic voter registration program, this bill also improves voter registration to reduce the burden on busy working Americans. The bill requires states to ensure that each citizen who provides identifying information to their state motor vehicle authority is automatically registered to vote.
American Association of People with Disabilities President Helena Berger: “As AAPD coordinates the REV UP Campaign to get more people with disabilities registered to vote during National Disability Voter Registration Week we are grateful to have an ally like Senator Wyden who is committed to upholding and protecting the right to vote for all citizens. The Senator’s vote by mail amendment to HAVA will help increase the political participation of not only people with disabilities, but all Americans.”
American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project Director Dale Ho: “The ACLU is proud to support the Vote By Mail Act because it would give all voters the option to vote by mail regardless of where they live. This is critically important now that Americans can no longer count on the Voting Rights Act’s full protections in light of the troubling voter suppression measures across the country. We look forward to seeing how the bill’s provisional automatic voter registration component develops in harmony with civil liberties principles.”
Common Cause Director of Voting and Elections Allegra Chapman: “At a time when some states are trying to make it more difficult for Americans to vote, Senator Wyden’s Vote By Mail Act is a step in the right direction of providing more Americans with another path to exercise their right to vote, and we hope Congress will consider it as part of a voting reform package. States like Oregon—with vote-by-mail and in-person voting—and Colorado—with both vote-by-mail and in-person voting at vote centers with the benefit of early voting and same-day registration—offer voters the kind of access needed today.”
National Association of Letter Carriers President Fredric Rolando: “We applaud the senators’ and representatives’ commitment to expanding accessibility for voters to participate in our democracy. As the public face of the most trusted government agency, letter carriers stand ready and eager to help make voting more convenient for the millions of Americans.”
Wyden has long supported national vote-by-mail efforts. He introduced the Vote by Mail Act of 2007, which created a three-year, $18 million grant program to help interested states adopt vote-by-mail elections.
In 2010, he introduced the Universal Right to Vote By Mail Act, which sought to end the restrictions that many states impose on a person’s ability to vote absentee, such as the requirement of a doctor’s note or a notarized statement.
Oregon became the country’s first all-vote-by-mail state in 2000, and since then, has consistently ranked among the states with highest voter-turnout in the nation. Oregon voting rates are especially high among young voters and in midterm elections, when turnout traditionally lags. Oregon’s vote by mail law has deterred voter fraud by implementing security measures such as a signature authentication system. Oregon’s system also prevents potential fraud by centralizing ballot processing in the county clerk’s office, rather than at various polling sites.