Senators Introduce Legislation To Expand Vote By Mail, Save Money and Increase Voter Participation

Washington, D.C. – Looking for ways to expand voter participation and reduce the growing cost of elections, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Thomas Carper (D-Del.),  Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced a package of bills today that would make it easier for states to institute the same vote-by-mail process currently used in Oregon.  Wyden – who is the first federal official to be elected entirely by mail – also introduced a bill to expand on-line voter registration.

“The Oregon experience has shown that vote-by-mail has been a clear winner with consistently high voter participation, costs that are 30 percent less than elections using traditional polling places and virtually none of the fraud that critics predicted,” said Wyden. “Now it is time to give other states the opportunity to duplicate Oregon’s success and reap the same benefits.”

“I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing these common-sense bills to enhance our democratic process,” said Carper.  “This legislation will help remove barriers to voting by making it more convenient for all Americans to cast their vote and have a say in our federal government.  Not only will these bills encourage more Americans to participate in elections, they will also save money and provide a much-needed boost to the Postal Service.” 

“Oregon has one of the highest voter turnout rates in the country and that’s in large part due to our vote-by-mail system,” said Merkley. “Enhancing absentee voting will assist countless Americans who don’t vote because they can’t make it to the ballot box.  I couldn’t be prouder to join Senator Wyden’s effort to streamline the voting process and improve integrity at the ballot box.”

“We need more participation in our democracy, not less,” said Senator Kerry.  “Elderly, disabled, and some of the hardest working Americans are often effectively disenfranchised because it’s hard or impossible for them to stand in line waiting at a polling place. This bill breaks down needless barriers, making it easier for all Americans to exercise their fundamental right to a voice and a vote.”

“Vote by mail would help more New Yorkers participate in our democracy,” said Senator Gillibrand. “We know that every American faces some type of obstacle to get to polling places on election day.  A vote by mail system provides every citizen with a convenient and secure opportunity to make their voice heard.  Voting by mail has been tremendously successful in states around the country, it saves taxpayer money, and it serves the public good.”

Vote-by-mail removes barriers that prevent voters from getting to the polls, while giving them more time to study issues and consider the candidates.  The program contains built-in safeguards that increase the integrity of the elections process and does not favor one political party over another.

The bills that make up the vote-by-mail package are:

•    The Universal Right to Vote By Mail bill, which would guarantee everyone’s right to cast a ballot by mail. Currently, 28 states and territories impose some restrictions on getting an absentee ballot. This bill would eliminate those restrictions and ensure that any voter who wishes to get a mail ballot is able to do so.
•    Vote By Mail grants bill, which would provide grants of $2 million to states or $1 million to smaller jurisdictions that want to institute vote by mail.

On Wednesday, May 5, Wyden and Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown will testify in support of these bills before the Senate Rules Committee.

In 1998, Oregon voters passed a ballot measure directing all elections to be conducted by mail, and Oregonians have voted exclusively by mail since the 2000 election.  Instead of using costly and traditional polling places where voters go to cast ballots on election day, a ballot is mailed to each registered voter. The ballot is then returned to the county elections office, the voter’s signature is verified, and the ballot is counted on election day.

According to the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office, Oregon has experienced a higher percentage of voter turnout since 1998 than before, and two of the three highest presidential election turnouts in Oregon were in 2004 and 2008.

As part of the package of bills to give voters more control and increase participation in elections, Senator Wyden also introduced a bill to expand on-line voter registration.  The bill will provide grants to states that wish to implement an on-line registration system to allow individual voters to register to vote, update voter information, and request an absentee ballot.  Oregon, Washington, and Arizona have already adopted such systems.