Udall, Heinrich Introduce Legislation to Expand Voting Access Nationwide

Bill would require states to mail a ballot to every eligible voter and establish automatic voter registration

WASHINGTON — This week, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich introduced a bill with Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to improve voting access and fight growing voter suppression nationwide by requiring states to provide every registered voter a ballot two weeks before the election, allow voters to mail in their ballots, and establish automatic voter registration.

Modeled after the electoral reforms being implemented in Oregon, the Vote by Mail Act would amend the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 to require states to mail ballots to all eligible voters in federal elections at least two weeks before the election — providing ample time to review the ballot and research candidates — and then allow voters to cast their ballot through the mail, a drop-off site, or maintain their polling location. In addition, the bill updates the National Voting Registration Act of 1993 to require states to automatically register citizens who provide identifying information to the state motor vehicle authority. The Vote by Mail Act would also provide funding to the United States Postal Service to pay for the cost of delivering ballots to voters, taking the burden off of the states.

"Voting is one of our most fundamental rights as Americans, and it is the duty of elected officials to ensure every citizen has access to the ballot box. But for too many working New Mexicans, Native Americans and those in rural communities, there are unfair obstacles to casting a ballot," Udall said. "By making vote by mail available to every eligible voter and enacting automatic voter registration, this bill enables voters to take time to make informed decisions about candidates, avoid missing a day of work or school, and skip the long lines and inconvenient polling locations. Voting shouldn't be a burden, and I'm proud to cosponsor legislation that would break down these barriers nationwide."

“Our nation’s democracy is founded on the right to vote and the ability of every citizen to participate in that process equally. However, barriers to voting exist for far too many New Mexicans, especially in rural communities,” Heinrich said. "This legislation makes casting a ballot easier by allowing voters to mail in their ballots and establishing automatic voter registration. And by providing every registered voter a ballot two weeks before the election, voters can have the chance to learn more about the candidates and ballot initiatives before Election Day.”

The legislation aims to counteract the efforts of several state governments to enact voting restrictions. At least five states have already enacted laws this year to make voting more difficult, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, in addition to cuts to polling places and hours-long lines in last year’s election. Since 2010, at least 20 states have passed laws restricting voting.

The bill text is available here and a one-page summary is available here

The bill is led in the Senate by Wyden, and in addition to Udall and Heinrich, is cosponsored by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

The American Association of People with Disabilities, American Civil Liberties Union, Common Cause, and the National Association of Letter Carriers have announced their support for the Vote By Mail Act.