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Wyden, Blumenauer try again to export Oregon mail voting, automatic registration to rest of US

Oregon has conducted all elections by mail since 2000.
Lynne Terry
Oregon Capital Chronicle
Oregon has conducted all elections by mail since 2000.

Oregon’s senior senator and congressman are renewing their efforts to expand the mail voting system Oregon pioneered more than two decades ago to the rest of the nation.

Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, both Democrats, will introduce the Vote at Home Act on Wednesday. It would automatically register citizens to vote when they obtain or renew driver’s licenses, allow everyone to vote by mail and provide pre-paid envelopes to return ballots.

Wyden described voting from home as “just common sense” in a statement.

“The United States is stronger when more Americans can vote,” Wyden said in a statement. “Our bill will make elections more accessible to seniors, students and working families that might not have time to wait at a polling station. Voting at home makes elections more secure as well, since there’s a built-in paper trail for every single ballot that can’t be hacked.”

Since Oregon became the first state to conduct elections entirely by mail in 2000, several other states have followed suit. California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Utah, Vermont and Washington also mail ballots to all voters, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Other states allow voters to choose to receive ballots at home, and mail voting has increased significantly since the COVID pandemic began. In the 2018 general election, only 25% of voters voted by mail, compared to 50% of voters in 2020 and 35% in 2022, according to Wyden’s office.

Many states temporarily or permanently changed their laws to allow mail voting during the 2020 election, though Republican lawmakers have moved to restrict mail voting since President Joe Biden’s victory. An attempt in the Oregon Legislature to end mail voting did not receive a hearing.

“Oregon has led the nation in defending the right to vote, which is the very cornerstone of our democracy,” Blumenauer said in a statement. “Vote at home laws have been extremely successful at increasing voter turnout all while upholding strong security standards. This critical legislation will bring Oregon’s model nationwide and strengthen the fundamental right to vote that is so central to our democratic process.”

The measure he and Wyden introduced would require states to mail ballots to registered voters weeks before Election Day, while allowing people to vote in person in states that have polling places. It wouldn’t affect same-day registration in the 20 states and Washington, D.C., that don’t have voter registration deadlines.

It would also require that U.S. citizens who provide identifying information, including their name, address, signature and proof of citizenship, to their state’s motor vehicle authority be automatically registered to vote. Oregon and California were the first states to automatically register voters, and 18 other states and Washington, D.C. followed suit.

Many voting rights groups, including the End Citizens United/Let America Vote Action Fund, are supporting the measure. The group’s president, Tiffany Muller, described it as crucial to ensuring every voter’s voice can be heard.

“When we expanded access to voting in the 2020 election, there was record turnout across the country,” Muller said. “It’s clear that when Americans have access to the voting booth and have the freedom to make their voices heard, it gives more people the ability to participate in our democracy.”

Oregon’s other senator, Democrat Jeff Merkley, is co-sponsoring the Senate version, along with 14 other Democratic senators. But its prospects are dim – a 2021 version of the measure didn’t advance in either the House or the Senate, and Republicans now control the U.S. House.

The Oregon Capital Chronicle is a professional, nonprofit news organization. We are an affiliate of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. The Capital Chronicle retains full editorial independence, meaning decisions about news and coverage are made by Oregonians for Oregonians.

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. Julia is an award-winning journalist who reported on the tangled efforts to audit the 2020 presidential election results in Arizona.