Oregon Senators Wyden, Merkley Propose National Vote-By-Mail

Wyden.Merkley

[Image via mailtribune]

Oregon’s two U.S. Senators and one House member have introduced a new bill seeking to move the entire nation to vote-by-mail, saying the move would help counteract efforts to restrict voting in many states nationwide. OregonLive has more:

Voting rights across the country are under attack, according to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s office.

To combat that, Wyden and Sen. Jeff Merkley introduced a bill Thursday to expand Oregon’s vote-by-mail system nationwide. Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer is spearheading a related measure in the House. 

The bill – the Vote By Mail Act of 2016 – would require every state to provide registered voters the chance to vote by mail and send ballots and pre-paid envelopes out at least two weeks before an election. It would also amend the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 to provide for automatic voter registration through a state’s department of motor vehicles.

The lawmakers’ statements echo the position of their Democratic colleagues that voter suppression is a growing problem in the states:

“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 in a statement. “Government can never truly represent the American people if citizens don’t have the opportunity to have their voices heard at the ballot box…”

“Making sure all Americans have the ability to exercise their right to vote is critical to our Democratic process,” said Blumenauer, who introduced the House bill alongside Rep. David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island). “There is no better time to provide more options for Americans to vote…”

“Voting is our most sacred and fundamental right as Americans,” Merkley said in a statement. “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.”

The bill already has the support of key organizations active on the issue, and is accompanied by a companion bill in the House:

The legislation is backed groups like the American Association of People with Disabilities and American Civil Liberties Union.

“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,” American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project Director Dale Ho said in a statement.

Here is a summary of the bill’s provisions, taken from Wyden’s website:

1. Promoting the Ability of Voters to Vote by Mail – Voters across the country continue to face unreasonable delays and obstacles to voting. Under this bill, all registered voters would receive ballots in the mail weeks before Election Day, allowing them to carefully research candidates and issues well ahead of Election Day to inform their vote.

2. Casting Ballots – This bill would allow all registered voters to cast their ballot through the mail or a drop-off site. Voters residing in states with in-person, same day registration would still have the option to vote at a polling station in lieu of voting by mail.

3. Funding for the United States Postal Service – Under this bill, the United States Postal Service (USPS), in collaboration with state election officials, would deliver ballots to all registered voters. Congress would provide the USPS funding to cover costs associated with mailing ballots in federal elections. This feature would allow states to save money by transitioning away from polling stations with the federal government absorbing the cost associated with USPS delivery.

4. Automatic Voter Registration – This bill also requires states to ensure that each citizen who provides identifying information to the state motor vehicle authority is automatically registered to vote. Voters are given 21 days to “opt out” if they do not wish to remain registered. The result is easier voter registration and more accurate voter rolls, both of which reduce the burden on busy working Americans.

 

I think this bill is worth noting, not because it has any chance of passage in the current Congress, but because I think it is continuing evidence of the shift in thinking about what election “reform” looks like. As election offices nationwide continue to worry about how to pay for new voting technology, I think this combination – vote-by-mail with some elements of the “Colorado model,” automatic registration and increased attention to postal costs – will increasingly become attractive as a way forward. That doesn’t mean it’ll happen; fraud concerns and simple inertia in favor of traditional polling places will be powerful counterweights – but don’t be surprised if one or more of the items in the bill re-emerge in Congress and state legislatures in 2017.

As usual, lots going on in the election world; be well this weekend and stay tuned …

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