As a new tide of voter disenfranchisement rises across the country, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., announced a new campaign Thursday to expand an Oregon-style vote-by-mail program nationwide and tear down barriers to voting.
“My home state of Oregon has led the nation in making voting more accessible. No one has to take time off work just to exercise his or her constitutional rights,” Wyden said. “My proposition is the rest of our country should follow Oregon’s lead and offer all voters a chance to vote by mail.”
Voters across the country have faced unreasonable delays and new obstacles to voting, the senator said. This year alone: some voters in Arizona waited in line for up to 5 hours, New York is investigating why 126,000 voters were purged from voting rolls, Rhode Island slashed the number of polling places by two-thirds and 17 states have added new voting restrictions.
“Across the country, there are stories of long lines, inexplicable purges of voter rolls and new requirements that make it harder for citizens to vote. There is no excuse for accepting this state of affairs,” Wyden said. “There is no excuse for citizens in Arizona to wait five hours to cast their ballot. There is no excuse for citizens in Rhode Island to find two out of every three polling places have closed. There is no excuse whatsoever for poor communities and minority communities across this country to see their polling places shuttered.”
Wyden’s draft plan requires every state to provide registered voters the opportunity to cast their ballots in the mail. Under this proposal, 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. An outline of the proposal is available here.
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.