Text: S.26 — 116th Congress (2019-2020)All Information (Except Text)

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Introduced in Senate (01/03/2019)

 
[Congressional Bills 116th Congress]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office]
[S. 26 Introduced in Senate (IS)]

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116th CONGRESS
  1st Session
                                 S. 26

To amend the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to allow all eligible voters 
   to vote by mail in Federal elections, to amend the National Voter 
 Registration Act of 1993 to provide for automatic voter registration.


_______________________________________________________________________


                   IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES

                            January 3, 2019

 Mr. Wyden (for himself, Mr. Markey, Mr. Whitehouse, Mrs. Gillibrand, 
Mrs. Feinstein, Ms. Harris, Ms. Baldwin, Mr. Sanders, Mrs. Murray, Mr. 
  Murphy, Ms. Warren, and Mr. Carper) introduced the following bill; 
    which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Rules and 
                             Administration

_______________________________________________________________________

                                 A BILL


 
To amend the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to allow all eligible voters 
   to vote by mail in Federal elections, to amend the National Voter 
 Registration Act of 1993 to provide for automatic voter registration.

    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the 
United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

    This Act may be cited as the ``Vote By Mail Act of 2019''.

SEC. 2. FINDINGS.

    Congress finds the following:
            (1) An inequity of voting rights exists in the United 
        States because voters in some States have the universal right 
        to vote by mail while voters in other States do not.
            (2) Many voters often have work, family, or other 
        commitments that make getting to polls and waiting in line on 
        the date of an election difficult or impossible. Many citizens 
        with disabilities are physically unable to vote due to long 
        lines, inadequate parking, no curb cuts, steep ramps, and large 
        crowds. In 2012, 30 percent of voters with disabilities had 
        difficulty voting, and more than 5,000,000 voters waited more 
        than an hour to vote. Under current State laws, many of these 
        voters are not permitted to vote by mail.
            (3) Twenty-eight States currently allow universal absentee 
        voting (also known as ``no-excuse'' absentee voting), which 
        permits any voter to request a mail-in ballot without providing 
        a reason for the request. No State which has implemented no-
        excuse absentee voting has repealed it.
            (4) Three States currently hold elections entirely by mail. 
        Twenty-two States currently allow some elections to be 
        conducted by mail, especially in large and rural jurisdictions 
        where voting by mail is especially convenient. Polling stations 
        in rural jurisdictions tend to have higher costs per voter, 
        smaller staffs, and limited resources. Transportation is often 
        a crucial barrier for rural voters.
            (5) Voting by mail gives voters more time to consider their 
        choices, which is especially important as many ballots contain 
        greater numbers of questions about complex issues than in the 
        past due to the expanded use of the initiative and referendum 
        process in many States.
            (6) Voting by mail is cost effective. After the State of 
        Oregon adopted vote by mail for all voters in 1996, the cost to 
        administer an election in the State dropped by nearly 30 
        percent over the next few elections, from $3.07 per voter to 
        $2.21 per voter. After Colorado implemented all-mail balloting 
        in 2013, voting administration costs decreased by an average of 
        40 percent. The cost of conducting vote-by-mail elections is 
        generally one-third to one-half less than conducting polling 
        place elections. Voting by mail also saves a substantial amount 
        by getting rid of the temporary labor costs of hiring poll 
        workers. In addition to that cost, many jurisdictions have been 
        facing difficulty in obtaining sufficient numbers of poll 
        workers.
            (7) Allowing all voters the option to vote by mail can 
        reduce waiting times for those voters who choose to vote at the 
        polls. In 2016, voters in Arizona reported waiting in line from 
        1 to 5 hours to vote; in New York, voters reported that 
        stations ran out of ballots and did not have staff during all 
        of the hours scheduled for voting.
            (8) Voting by mail is preferable to many voters as an 
        alternative to going to the polls. In 2016, 24 percent of 
        ballots in the United States were cast by mail, up from 10 
        percent in 2000. In 2016, nearly 58 percent of California 
        voters chose to vote by mail. Voting by mail has become 
        increasingly popular with voters who want to be certain that 
        they are able to vote no matter what comes up on election day, 
        as it reduces the physical obstacles and eases the time 
        constraints connected with the act of voting.
            (9) The signature verification process, the tracking system 
        for each ballot, and postal service cooperation in preventing 
        ballots from being delivered to names not recognized as 
        receiving mail at an address nearly eliminate the potential for 
        fraud in vote by mail elections. Evidence of undue influence or 
        voter coercion after vote-by-mail implementation in Oregon has 
        been nonexistent to minimal.
            (10) Many of the reasons which voters in many States are 
        required to provide in order to vote by mail require the 
        revelation of personal information about health, travel plans, 
        or religious activities, which violate voters' privacy while 
        doing nothing to prevent voter fraud.
            (11) State laws which require voters to obtain a notary 
        signature to vote by mail only add cost and inconvenience to 
        voters without increasing security.
            (12) Many voters choose to cast ballots early when they 
        have the option (over 50 percent in Arizona, Arkansas, 
        California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Montana, 
        Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, 
        Utah, and Washington). More than 40 percent of voters in the 
        2016 election cast their ballot before election day. In Oregon, 
        7 years after vote-by-mail election implementation, over 80 
        percent of voters favored the vote-by-mail system.
            (13) Vote-by-mail typically increases turnout in all 
        elections, but can be particularly effective in increasing 
        voter participation in special elections and primary elections. 
        Oregon, Washington, and Colorado, the 3 States with entirely 
        vote by mail elections, continue to have consistently high 
        voter turnout rates. In the 2016 Presidential election, while 
        the percentage of registered voters who cast a ballot 
        nationally was 68.1 percent, Oregon's was 80.3 percent, 
        Washington's was 78.76 percent, and Colorado's was 74.3 
        percent.
            (14) A crucial component of a modern voting system is 
        making it easy, affordable, and accessible to register to vote. 
        Thirty States introduced automatic voter registration 
        legislation in the first 4 months of 2017, and 7 States plus 
        the District of Columbia automatically register their citizens 
        to vote when they apply for or renew a driver's license. 
        Automatic, permanent voter registration has the potential to 
        increase participation, protect election integrity, and reduce 
        registration costs.

SEC. 3. PROMOTING ABILITY OF VOTERS TO VOTE BY MAIL IN FEDERAL 
              ELECTIONS.

    (a) Voting by Mail in Federal Elections.--
            (1) In general.--Subtitle A of title III of the Help 
        America Vote Act of 2002 (52 U.S.C. 21081 et seq.) is amended 
        by inserting after section 303 the following new section:

``SEC. 303A. PROMOTING ABILITY OF VOTERS TO VOTE BY MAIL.

    ``(a) In General.--If an individual in a State is eligible to cast 
a vote in an election for Federal office, the State may not impose any 
additional conditions or requirements on the eligibility of the 
individual to cast the vote in such election by mail, except to the 
extent that the State imposes a deadline for returning the ballot to 
the appropriate State or local election official.
    ``(b) Provision of Ballot Materials.--Not later than 2 weeks before 
the date of any election for Federal office, each State shall mail 
ballots to individuals who are registered to vote in such election.
    ``(c) Accessibility for Individuals With Disabilities.--All ballots 
provided under this section shall be accessible to individuals with 
disabilities in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access 
and participation (including for privacy and independence) as for other 
voters.
    ``(d) Rule of Construction.--Nothing in this section shall be 
construed to affect the authority of States to conduct elections for 
Federal office through the use of polling places at which individuals 
cast ballots.
    ``(e) Effective Date.--A State shall be required to comply with the 
requirements of subsection (a) with respect to elections for Federal 
office held in years beginning with 2020.''.
            (2) Conforming amendment relating to enforcement.--Section 
        401 of such Act (52 U.S.C. 21111) is amended by striking ``and 
        303'' and inserting ``303, and 303A''.
            (3) Clerical amendment.--The table of contents for such Act 
        is amended by inserting after the item relating to section 303 
        the following new item:

``Sec. 303A. Promoting ability of voters to vote by mail.''.
    (b) Free Postage for Voting by Mail.--
            (1) In general.--Chapter 34 of title 39, United States 
        Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:
``Sec. 3407. Ballots provided for voting in Federal elections
    ``Ballots mailed pursuant to section 303A(b) of the Help America 
Vote Act of 2002 (individually or in bulk) shall be carried 
expeditiously and free of postage.''.
            (2) Technical and conforming amendments.--
                    (A) Table of sections.--The table of sections for 
                chapter 34 of title 39, United States Code, is amended 
                by adding at the end the following:

``3407. Ballots provided for voting in Federal elections.''.
                    (B) Authorization of appropriations.--Section 
                2401(c) of title 39, United States Code, is amended by 
                striking ``3403 through 3406'' and inserting ``3403 
                through 3407''.

SEC. 4. AUTOMATIC VOTER REGISTRATION THROUGH STATE MOTOR VEHICLE 
              AUTHORITIES.

    (a) Automatic Voter Registration.--Section 5 of the National Voter 
Registration Act of 1993 (52 U.S.C. 20504) is amended to read as 
follows:

``SEC. 5. VOTER REGISTRATION THROUGH MOTOR VEHICLE AUTHORITY.

    ``(a) Simultaneous Application for Voter Registration and 
Application for Motor Vehicle Driver's License.--
            ``(1) Transmission of information to election officials.--
        Each State's motor vehicle authority, upon receiving any of the 
        identifying information described in paragraph (2) with respect 
        to any applicable individual, shall securely transmit the 
        identifying information to the appropriate State election 
        official.
            ``(2) Identifying information described.--The identifying 
        information described in this paragraph with respect to any 
        individual is as follows:
                    ``(A) The individual's legal name.
                    ``(B) The individual's age.
                    ``(C) The individual's residence.
                    ``(D) The individual's citizenship status.
                    ``(E) The individual's electronic signature.
    ``(b) Duties of Officials Receiving Information.--
            ``(1) In general.--Upon receiving the identifying 
        information with respect to an applicable individual under 
        subsection (a), the appropriate State election official shall 
        determine--
                    ``(A) whether such individual is eligible to vote 
                in an election for Federal office; and
                    ``(B) whether such individual is currently 
                registered to vote in elections for Federal office at 
                the address provided in such identifying information.
            ``(2) Notification to individuals.--
                    ``(A) Eligible unregistered individuals.--In the 
                case of an applicable individual who is eligible to 
                vote in an election for Federal office and who is not 
                currently registered to vote, the appropriate State 
                election official shall issue a notification to the 
                individual containing--
                            ``(i) a statement that, unless the 
                        individual notifies the election official prior 
                        to the expiration of the 21-calendar-day period 
                        which begins on the date the official issued 
                        the notification that the individual declines 
                        to be registered to vote in elections for 
                        Federal office held in the State, the 
                        individual's records and signature will 
                        constitute a completed registration for the 
                        individual; and
                            ``(ii) a description of the process by 
                        which the individual may decline to be 
                        registered to vote in elections for Federal 
                        office in the State.
                    ``(B) Eligible individuals registered at a 
                different address.--In the case of an applicable 
                individual who is eligible to vote in an election for 
                Federal office and who is registered to vote in such 
                election at a different address than the address 
                provided in the identifying information, the 
                appropriate State election official shall issue a 
                notification to the individual containing--
                            ``(i) a statement that, unless the 
                        individual notifies the election official prior 
                        to the expiration of the 21-calendar-day period 
                        which begins on the date the official issued 
                        the notification that the address provided in 
                        the identifying information should not be used 
                        for voter registration purposes, the address 
                        provided in the identifying information shall 
                        be used as the individual's address for voter 
                        registration purposes; and
                            ``(ii) a description of the process by 
                        which the individual may decline a change of 
                        address for voter registration purposes.
    ``(c) Automatic Registration of Eligible Individuals; Automatic 
Change of Address.--
            ``(1) Registration.--Upon the expiration of the 21-
        calendar-day period which begins on the date the appropriate 
        State election official issues a notification to an individual 
        under subsection (b)(2)(A), the official shall ensure that the 
        individual is registered to vote in elections for Federal 
        office held in the State unless--
                    ``(A) the official later determines that the 
                individual does not meet the eligibility requirements 
                for registering to vote in such elections; or
                    ``(B) prior to the expiration of such 21-calendar-
                day period, the individual notifies the official that 
                the individual declines to be registered to vote in 
                such elections.
            ``(2) Change of address.--Upon the expiration of the 21-
        calendar-day period which begins on the date the appropriate 
        State election official issues a notification to an individual 
        under subsection (b)(2)(B), the official shall ensure that the 
        individual is registered to vote in elections for Federal 
        office at the address provided in the identifying information 
        unless--
                    ``(A) the official later determines that the 
                individual does not meet the eligibility requirements 
                for registering to vote in such elections; or
                    ``(B) prior to the expiration of such 21-calendar-
                day period, the individual notifies the official that 
                the individual declines a change of address for voter 
                registration purposes.
    ``(d) Applicable Individual.--For purposes of this section, the 
term `applicable individual' means any individual who seeks assistance 
from, receives benefits from, or receives service or assistance from a 
State motor vehicle authority that issues motor vehicle driver's 
licenses.''.
    (b) Conforming Amendment Relating to Timing of Registration Prior 
to Elections.--Section 8(a)(1)(A) of such Act (52 U.S.C. 
20507(a)(1)(A)) is amended to read as follows:
                    ``(A) in the case of registration through a motor 
                vehicle authority under section 5, if the identifying 
                information with respect to the individual is 
                transmitted by the authority to the appropriate State 
                election official under section 5(a)(1) not later than 
                the lesser of 30 days, or the period provided by State 
                law, before the date of the election;''.
    (c) Other Conforming Amendment.--Section 4(a)(1) of such Act (52 
U.S.C. 20503(a)(1)) is amended to read as follows:
            ``(1) through the State motor vehicle authority pursuant to 
        section 5;''.
    (d) Effective Date.--The amendments made by this section shall take 
effect upon the expiration of the 180-day period which begins on the 
date of the enactment of this Act.
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