Oregon's mail voting system gains new cachet amid coronavirus
Oregon elections officials say they're confident about proceeding with the state's scheduled May 19 primary — but they say it would be very different if they were talking about bringing hordes of would-be voters to thousands of polling stations amid the coronavirus epidemic.
"It would be really difficult," said Multnomah County elections director Tim Scott. "I feel for the states that still do most of their voting on election day."
Seven states and Puerto Rico have already postponed their primary elections, and more delays may be in the works. And if the epidemic continues next fall, it could also jeopardize the ability of voters in many states to participate in the November presidential election.
As a result, the mail voting system pioneered by Oregon and also used in Washington state is now getting new support nationally. Several voting rights groups are pushing for a major expansion of mail balloting. And U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, is partnering with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, on a bill to require every state to provide the option of a mail ballot in the November election.
Wyden, who gained his seat in 1996 in the nation's first all-mail election for a senator, said he now has a new pitch for the GOP majority in the Senate:
"What I'm telling my Republican colleagues is, 'Look, we could be faced with a choice," he said, "of either people not voting or people voting by mail. I don't think that is even a close call, and I hope you won't either.'"
Wyden said his bill would provide $500 million in new federal election aid for the states. Among other things, this would help states to pay the extra cost of mailing a ballot to every voter who asks for one. Voters could return those ballots by mail or drop them off at elections offices. The bill would also expand early voting centers now used in many states.
This OPB story was shared as part of a local media project to provide coverage of the COVID-19 virus.
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