January 06, 2022

Wyden Delivers Floor Speech on Protecting Democracy and Expanding the Right to Vote

On the anniversary of the January 6 insurrection, Wyden calls on the federal government to strengthen the right to vote and expand access to the ballot

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., delivered the following remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate in support of protecting democracy and expanding the right to vote.

“A year ago today, not far from where we stand this afternoon, domestic terrorists tried to beat our democracy to the ground. 

They might have been successful were it not for the police officers who defended our democracy as they were viciously attacked and beaten. Before anything else we must salute these officers, and all those who work, day in and day out, alongside them in the Capitol. For their courage, we should all be eternally grateful. 

The insurrection on January 6th was an attack instigated by the former president who wanted to undo the results of a democratic election. Let’s also understand that inciting the mob wasn’t the end of it, and Donald Trump didn’t walk quietly off into the sunset after the Biden inauguration. The effort to undermine our democracy -- to end free and fair elections in America -- is ongoing. Support for the Big Lie is essentially unchanged from where it was a year ago, and an awful lot of Republicans who said on January 6th that they were done with Donald Trump have cozied back up to him twelve months later. The only reason the mob is not here today is Donald Trump didn’t summon them back. 

Now it's our job to ensure that another attack like this, or by any other means, never succeeds. There will be more to say about these issues in the days ahead. 

In my view, protecting the vote is step one in protecting democracy. A guiding principle for this Senate must be that while politics may guide a citizen’s vote, it should never determine whether they are allowed to vote. To act otherwise, would undermine the very foundations of a representative democracy. 

Empowering voters with a system built on integrity and accountability. A system that promotes participation rather than discourages it. A system with a history of bipartisanship. That’s the kind we have in my home state of Oregon. Oregon believes so strongly in the right to vote that everyone gets a ballot straight to their home. 

I’m proud to say that I was the first US Senator elected in an all vote-by-mail election. Back then, it was Republicans pushing to expand vote-by-mail. A Democratic governor even vetoed a vote-by-mail bill in 1995. Right after my election, the Republicans flipped and vote-by-mail was suddenly bad, bad, bad. 

Everything flipped again a few months later when Gordon Smith, a Republic from eastern Oregon, became the second Senator elected in an all-mail election. 

The voters liked it so much, a ballot measure to make Oregon’s elections all vote-by-mail passed with 70 percent of the vote in 1998. 

Oregon’s experience with voting by mail started out forty years ago with a few local elections in Linn County, a mostly rural county in the Western part of the state. It grew and grew from there. Election officials learned that when you let people vote at home, participation goes up and costs go down. 

One of the biggest defenders of Oregon’s vote at home system was the late Dennis Richardson, who served as Oregon Secretary of State. Dennis was a Republican with a capital-capital-capital R. He was about as conservative as they come, but in the Trump era when people criticized Oregon’s elections or spouted lies about fraud, Dennis always stood up and cleared the record. He even wrote to Donald Trump in 2017 that, quote, “we are confident that voter fraud in last November's election did not occur in Oregon.” 

Every election, young Oregonians watch their parents vote around kitchen tables—inspiring the next generation of committed voters. Voting at home gives you the opportunity to be more informed. If there’s an initiative on the ballot or a race you haven’t researched, you can take time to study the options. When you’re done, your ballot goes into a security envelope and you sign the outside. 

For me, that’s when I head down to the Sellwood branch of the Multnomah County Public Library, drop my ballot in the collection box and go home. No long lines, no glitchy touch-screen systems. No hassle whatsoever.

A recent analysis in the Election Law Journal said that out of all 50 states, voting is easiest in Oregon. We get some of the highest turnout rates in the country. Oregon has also been a leader in terms of increasing turnout among black and Latino voters. Voter registration is automatic - as easy as a trip to the DMV. 

I’ve been pushing for universal vote-at-home legislation since 2002. I have a bill called the Vote at Home Act that would give every American the right to vote the way my neighbors and I do in Oregon, automatic registration included. I guarantee it would be a hit nationwide. 

Letting people vote at home is also the best defense against some of the most insidious methods of voter suppression. For example, what we’ve seen over the last few years -- state and local governments shuttering polling places, particularly ones that serve Black and Latino voters -- is absolutely unforgivable. These days, in some areas, Republicans are making it illegal to give water and food to people standing in line to vote. 

Nobody should have to wait hours in line. It shouldn’t be a test of physical stamina -- going without food and water. Nobody should have to wonder if they’ll be able to vote if they step out of line to go to the bathroom. Nobody should have to sacrifice an entire day to participate in their own democracy. 

That’s why I’ve also introduced the People Over Long Lines Act -- the POLL Act. That bill says state governments have to guarantee that everyone who votes in person can do so within 30 minutes. Anybody who’s forced to wait longer than that can sue. If they win, it’s 50 bucks for waiting longer than 30 minutes, and 50 bucks more for every hour after that. 

A free bit of advice to states who don’t want to get hit with those penalties, the best way to make sure nobody has to wait in line for hours is to let them vote at home. 

It’s not just Oregon that votes by mail. If you need another example, let me point you toward a group called the United States armed forces. Most service members and their families vote by mail in every federal election. It's been that way for decades.

The bottom line is that Oregon’s system works. It raises voter participation. It lowers the costs of running elections. It helps voters get more informed. It’s a safe and secure approach. And if you’re resisting safe and efficient elections with higher voter turnout, then you’re suppressing democracy in America. Oregon shows the way on preserving America. 

I’ll close this afternoon on a personal note: 

My German family who fled their homeland were deeply rooted in that nation’s society, as my great grandfather was a member of Parliament and served on the Berlin City Council. 

My family was forced as Jews to flee the fascists who had taken over their democracy. They fled to America as the last remaining beacon of freedom. With that freedom my dad chose to serve in our army that fought the German fascism and has been recognized for his unique contributions. 

If my dad was alive today he would tell us, “Senators make sure that the light in America’s beacon of freedom never goes out.”

Video of Wyden’s floor remarks are available here.

Press Contact

Keith Chu (Wyden)