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Voting by mail could come to D.C. under new bill

The District would join other U.S. jurisdictions in permitting the practice

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Original post, June 4:

The nation’s capital may allow voting by mail in local and federal elections should a new bill gain traction. On Tuesday, Ward 1 D.C. Councilmember Brianne Nadeau plans to propose a piece of legislation that would require the District’s Board of Elections (BOE) to mail ballots to all registered voters “for all federal, general, primary, recall elections, and referendums,” according to her office. The measure is meant to make voting easier and increase turnout.

It would also bring the District in line with other U.S. jurisdictions. “At least 22 states have provisions that allow certain elections to be conducted entirely by mail,” Nadeau’s office explains in a fact-sheet about the bill. “Three states, Colorado, Washington and Oregon, conduct all of their elections entirely by mail.” With this measure, the BOE would have to mail out ballots—via prepaid envelopes—“no later than 45 days before the election,” and voters could return them as early as 15 days before the election, up through election day.

In addition to mailing their ballots back, voters could drop them off at what the legislation calls “ballot deposit centers”: libraries, recreational centers, and other locations approved by the BOE. The measure would still let voters cast ballots in person and in early voting (at least seven days before the election). In D.C., polling places usually close at 8 p.m. on election day.

As of Tuesday morning, Nadeau’s bill had six other co-introducers, her office said—enough for a D.C. Council majority needed for a standard bill to pass. The proposal comes after a non-presidential election year in which D.C. witnessed low turnout: In the 2018 Democratic primary, just 18.6 percent of registered voters cast ballots, with especially low turnout rates in Wards 7 and 8, located east of the Anacostia River. Even during the 2018 general election, less than half of the District’s registered voters cast ballots: 46.2 percent, BOE figures show.

Nadeau’s is not the only election-related legislation expected to be floated Tuesday. A new bill by At-Large Councilmember Robert White that is initially supported by a supermajority of the Council would re-enfranchise felons while they are still serving their prison sentences.

Update, 1 p.m.: At the Council’s legislative meeting Tuesday, a supermajority of the body preliminarily backed Nadeau’s bill. The legislation may receive a public hearing in the future.

Update, October 29:

The D.C.’s Council’s judiciary committee will hold a hearing on the vote-by-mail bill October 30 at 10 a.m. Among the roughly dozen witnesses slated to testify are the deputy elections director from Washington, a vote-by-mail state, and several civil rights advocates. Although the governor of Oregon, Kate Brown, was also lined up to testify via Skype, a spokesperson for Brown says her schedule “can no longer accommodate the invitation.” Oregon has had vote-by-mail in all of its elections since the late 1990s, the result of a state ballot initiative.