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Oregon Governor Kate Brown Pushes Expanding Vote-by-Mail to Counter GOP Voter Suppression Efforts

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As Republican lawmakers across the U.S. move to make it harder for voters to cast ballots by mail, we look at Oregon’s long history of vote-by-mail. Oregon, where 92% of residents are now registered to vote, was the first state in the country to institute voting by mail and to establish automatic voter registration in an effort to “ensure access to this very fundamental right,” says Oregon’s Democratic Governor Kate Brown, who is also the national chair of Vote from Home. The nationwide crackdown on voting rights is taking place because “Republicans don’t want to hear voices” of Black, Brown, Indigenous people and women, Brown says. “We have to hold these legislators who voted for these racist policies … accountable.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

As we continue to look at voting rights, we turn now to the fight over voting by mail. Republican lawmakers across the country are moving to make it harder for voters to cast ballots by mail, even though some states have safely conducted elections by mail for years. On Thursday, Texas’s state Senate passed a sweeping voter suppression bill that includes a provision to make it illegal for local election officials to send vote-by-mail applications to voters, even if they qualify.

Joining us now is Oregon’s Democratic Governor Kate Brown. She’s the national chair of Vote from Home. She’s served as governor since 2015. Oregon was the first state in the country to institute voting by mail and to establish automatic voter registration. Ninety-two percent of eligible Oregonians are now registered to vote.

Governor Brown, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about what Oregon has done all of these years, the safety of voting from home, in terms of voter fraud, and the attack on it now?

GOV. KATE BROWN: Thanks, Amy. I so appreciate the opportunity to be on the program this morning.

Oregon led the country several decades ago with the passage of an initiative to enable Oregon voters to vote by mail, vote from home. And so, we’ve been voting by home — by mail since the late 1990s. And it’s extremely successful. It’s successful because Oregon voters find it convenient. And in this state, we believe that your vote is your voice and every single voice matters. So, our efforts, both from the Democratic side and the Republican side, have been to ensure access to this very fundamental right, because we believe that democracy works better when every eligible American, every eligible Oregonian, can participate.

In addition to that, Oregon led the way with our automatic registration bill. That was legislation I craft when I was secretary of state. We now have over 92% of Oregonians registered, which is extraordinary. And Oregon is, frankly, the most accessible state to vote in in the country. The automatic voter registration is really groundbreaking, and over 17 states have followed our lead. But the goal here is to make it as convenient and accessible to register as possible. And frankly, you go get your driver’s license here in the state, and you are automatically registered to vote. You can certainly decline, if you choose to, but it puts the burden on Oregonians that don’t wish to participate. And that’s exactly how it should be in a democracy.

But it’s really been a paradigm shift. All of the organizations, from the League of Women Voters to our student association groups to student organizations like the Bus Project, all of these organizations are now spending their time to educate, to engage and to empower voters across the state. All of the resources that went into voter registration are now being used to engage voters. And that’s the right paradigm shift.

AMY GOODMAN: Arizona, Iowa — can you talk about the efforts to suppress voting by mail there?

GOV. KATE BROWN: These are efforts, in states like Iowa, in states like Georgia, in states like Arizona, to shut out voices of eligible voters. And it’s both racist, it’s un-American, and it’s undemocratic, and it should be unacceptable. And that’s why I’m supporting both H.R. 1 and H.R. 4 in the U.S. Congress. I think it’s critically important that our federal elected officials take action to preserve the very fundamental right to vote.

But these actions are because conservatives, because Republicans don’t want to hear voices. They don’t want to hear Black voices. They don’t want to hear Brown voices. They don’t want to hear Indigenous voices. They don’t want to hear women’s voices. We have to do everything we can. We have to hold these legislators who voted for these racist policies — we have to hold them accountable. And I’m so delighted to be participating in our Vote from Home organization, because we’re going to do exactly that. And we’re going to continue to engage and empower voters in these states and make sure that their voices can be heard.

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