Kerry, Colleagues Introduce Legislation To Expand Vote By Mail To Save Money And Increase Voter Participation
Looking for ways to expand voter participation and reduce the growing cost of elections, U.S. Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), 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 a nationwide vote-by-mail process.
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.
"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."
"It's essential that we make sure every American can vote. In many states, including Massachusetts, you can't vote by mail unless you are out of town or physically unable to come to polls or observing a religious holiday. What about a mom or dad taking care of a sick child, or a person who has to work two or three jobs in today's tough economy? This bill will make sure they can vote," said Avi Green, Executive Director of MassVOTE.
Since 2000, all Oregon elections have been conducted entirely by mail. 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.
"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, who is the first federal official to be elected entirely by mail. "Now it is time to give other states the opportunity to duplicate Oregon's success and reap the same benefits."
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.
As part of the package of bills to give voters more control and increase participation in elections, Senator Kerry co-sponsored another bill introduced by Senator Wyden that would 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.