Wyden, Merkley reflect on anniversary of Capitol attack, urge action on election legislation

WASHINGTON (KTVZ) — Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., spoke and issued statements Thursday to make the one-year anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Capitol and urge colleagues to act on voting-rights legislation.

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., delivered the following remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate in support of protecting democracy and expanding the right to vote.

“A year ago today, not far from where we stand this afternoon, domestic terrorists tried to beat our democracy to the ground. 

They might have been successful were it not for the police officers who defended our democracy as they were viciously attacked and beaten. Before anything else we must salute these officers, and all those who work, day in and day out, alongside them in the Capitol. For their courage, we should all be eternally grateful. 

The insurrection on January 6th was an attack instigated by the former president who wanted to undo the results of a democratic election. Let’s also understand that inciting the mob wasn’t the end of it, and Donald Trump didn’t walk quietly off into the sunset after the Biden inauguration. The effort to undermine our democracy — to end free and fair elections in America — is ongoing. Support for the Big Lie is essentially unchanged from where it was a year ago, and an awful lot of Republicans who said on January 6th that they were done with Donald Trump have cozied back up to him twelve months later. The only reason the mob is not here today is Donald Trump didn’t summon them back. 

Now it’s our job to ensure that another attack like this, or by any other means, never succeeds. There will be more to say about these issues in the days ahead. 

In my view, protecting the vote is step one in protecting democracy. A guiding principle for this Senate must be that while politics may guide a citizen’s vote, it should never determine whether they are allowed to vote. To act otherwise, would undermine the very foundations of a representative democracy. 

Empowering voters with a system built on integrity and accountability. A system that promotes participation rather than discourages it. A system with a history of bipartisanship. That’s the kind we have in my home state of Oregon. Oregon believes so strongly in the right to vote that everyone gets a ballot straight to their home. 

I’m proud to say that I was the first US Senator elected in an all vote-by-mail election. Back then, it was Republicans pushing to expand vote-by-mail. A Democratic governor even vetoed a vote-by-mail bill in 1995. Right after my election, the Republicans flipped and vote-by-mail was suddenly bad, bad, bad. 

Everything flipped again a few months later when Gordon Smith, a Republic from eastern Oregon, became the second Senator elected in an all-mail election. 

The voters liked it so much, a ballot measure to make Oregon’s elections all vote-by-mail passed with 70 percent of the vote in 1998. 

Oregon’s experience with voting by mail started out forty years ago with a few local elections in Linn County, a mostly rural county in the Western part of the state. It grew and grew from there. Election officials learned that when you let people vote at home, participation goes up and costs go down. 

One of the biggest defenders of Oregon’s vote at home system was the late Dennis Richardson, who served as Oregon Secretary of State. Dennis was a Republican with a capital-capital-capital R. He was about as conservative as they come, but in the Trump era when people criticized Oregon’s elections or spouted lies about fraud, Dennis always stood up and cleared the record. He even wrote to Donald Trump in 2017 that, quote, “we are confident that voter fraud in last November’s election did not occur in Oregon.” 

Every election, young Oregonians watch their parents vote around kitchen tables—inspiring the next generation of committed voters. Voting at home gives you the opportunity to be more informed. If there’s an initiative on the ballot or a race you haven’t researched, you can take time to study the options. When you’re done, your ballot goes into a security envelope and you sign the outside. 

For me, that’s when I head down to the Sellwood branch of the Multnomah County Public Library, drop my ballot in the collection box and go home. No long lines, no glitchy touch-screen systems. No hassle whatsoever.

A recent analysis in the Election Law Journal said that out of all 50 states, voting is easiest in Oregon. We get some of the highest turnout rates in the country. Oregon has also been a leader in terms of increasing turnout among black and Latino voters. Voter registration is automatic – as easy as a trip to the DMV. 

I’ve been pushing for universal vote-at-home legislation since 2002. I have a bill called the Vote at Home Act that would give every American the right to vote the way my neighbors and I do in Oregon, automatic registration included. I guarantee it would be a hit nationwide. 

Letting people vote at home is also the best defense against some of the most insidious methods of voter suppression. For example, what we’ve seen over the last few years — state and local governments shuttering polling places, particularly ones that serve Black and Latino voters — is absolutely unforgivable. These days, in some areas, Republicans are making it illegal to give water and food to people standing in line to vote. 

Nobody should have to wait hours in line. It shouldn’t be a test of physical stamina — going without food and water. Nobody should have to wonder if they’ll be able to vote if they step out of line to go to the bathroom. Nobody should have to sacrifice an entire day to participate in their own democracy. 

That’s why I’ve also introduced the People Over Long Lines Act — the POLL Act. That bill says state governments have to guarantee that everyone who votes in person can do so within 30 minutes. Anybody who’s forced to wait longer than that can sue. If they win, it’s 50 bucks for waiting longer than 30 minutes, and 50 bucks more for every hour after that. 

A free bit of advice to states who don’t want to get hit with those penalties, the best way to make sure nobody has to wait in line for hours is to let them vote at home. 

It’s not just Oregon that votes by mail. If you need another example, let me point you toward a group called the United States armed forces. Most service members and their families vote by mail in every federal election. It’s been that way for decades.

The bottom line is that Oregon’s system works. It raises voter participation. It lowers the costs of running elections. It helps voters get more informed. It’s a safe and secure approach. And if you’re resisting safe and efficient elections with higher voter turnout, then you’re suppressing democracy in America. Oregon shows the way on preserving America. 

I’ll close this afternoon on a personal note: 

My German family who fled their homeland were deeply rooted in that nation’s society, as my great grandfather was a member of Parliament and served on the Berlin City Council. 

My family was forced as Jews to flee the fascists who had taken over their democracy. They fled to America as the last remaining beacon of freedom. With that freedom my dad chose to serve in our army that fought the German fascism and has been recognized for his unique contributions. 

If my dad was alive today he would tell us, “Senators make sure that the light in America’s beacon of freedom never goes out,” Wyden concluded.

Merkley, D-Ore., released the following statement that spoke to what he called “the urgent need to pass legislation to combat a rising wave of attacks on voting rights and election integrity across the country”:

“One year ago today, a violent mob stormed the Capitol to block lawmakers from completing their constitutional duty to certify election results and enable the peaceful transition of power.

“The January 6th insurrectionists were emboldened by President Trump to act upon the ‘Big Lie,’ the unfounded conspiracy that voter fraud caused his defeat in the 2020 election, and to use violence as a means to keep a losing president in office. This was an attempted coup to disrupt our institutions, sustain power, and overrule the will of the American people. Democracy prevailed that day because of the courageous efforts of Capitol Police officers who stood on the frontlines to ensure our institutions remained intact. Let us honor and commend their heroics on this day of remembrance, and support those who are still suffering in the aftermath.

“While the physical assault on the Capitol is now behind us, the broader struggle to defend our democracy continues—more urgently now than ever. The right for Americans to decide who holds power through their votes was under attack long before the violent insurrection, and that attack has only accelerated since. We cannot let Republican-led state legislatures use the Big Lie to systematically restrict our most fundamental constitutional right. Like the mob on January 6th, these legislatures are trying to hand power to their preferred candidates regardless of the will of the voters—a direct assault on our cherished constitutional, democratic values.

“There is no more time to waste. The Senate must act this month to curtail voter suppression, voter intimidation, and partisan subversion of election results by passing the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Republicans at the state level are trying to ensure that they can seize power despite the will of the voters. Republicans have lined up behind an ex-president who incited a violent effort to block the peaceful transfer of power. Republicans cannot be allowed to also exercise a veto in the U.S. Senate against efforts to protect Americans’ most fundamental right to decide who governs. The Senate rules must be changed to pass these bills. 

“The Senate was intended to be a cooling saucer, not a deep freeze. The founders intended for every senator to have a voice, but not a veto. The abuse of the current rules is preventing us from debating and addressing the big issues facing America—and there is no issue bigger than the right to vote—and so we must fix the rules to restore the Senate and save our democratic republic. The best way to honor the legacy of January 6th is to deepen our resolve to protect America’s ‘We the People’ governance. That means we must not let any attacks on democracy—whether a physical siege on a building or a backroom deal to block the ballot box—prevail.”