Wyden secures $400 million, but no national commitment to all-mail elections
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden won a partial victory, and some money, in his quest to move states toward all-mail elections that Oregon has conducted for the past 20 years.
The $2 trillion federal aid plan moving through Congress contains $400 million for states to transition from polling-place elections to mail balloting. Wyden and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, both Democrats, had called on Congress last week to move toward mail elections and early voting to avert long lines and crowded polling places during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Several states have moved their primaries to later in the year because of the outbreak. Oregon, which led the nation by instituting all-mail elections starting in 2000, will conduct its primary as scheduled May 19.
Wyden and Klobuchar said in a statement Wednesday:
"In times of crisis, the American people cannot be forced to choose between their health and exercising their right to vote. While this funding is a step in the right direction, we must enact election reforms across the country as well as secure more resources to guarantee safe and secure elections. We will continue to fight to pass the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020 to ensure every eligible American can safely and lawfully cast their ballot."
Wyden was the first senator elected in mail balloting in a 1996 special election.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Oregon is one of five states with all-mail elections — the others are Washington, Colorado, Hawaii and Utah — and 28 others have no-excuse absentee voting.
Wyden's Democratic colleague, Sen. Jeff Merkley, said there's another chance for them to prevail for the Nov. 3 general election.
"Some states may use the money to move toward mail voting or no-excuse absentee voting. But we did not get the requirement that they do so," Merkley told reporters in a conference call Wednesday. "We think it would have been a tremendous way to help ensure that elections in November go off well. We might get another wave (of the virus) next fall, so we want to make sure the election reflects the will of the people."
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