Two Oregon lawmakers joined more than 100 state representatives and senators from across the country last week in travelling to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress to take action on legislation expanding access to the ballot box and reforming campaign finance laws.
Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, D-Woodburn, and Rep. Wlnsvey Campos, D-Aloha, recently returned from the nation’s Capitol where they met with legislators from states like Florida and Texas where battles over voting rights continue to take place.
The pair advocated on behalf of the For the People Act currently under consideration by Congress which went on recess this week. The bill would expand voter registration nationwide by allowing automatic and same-day registration, as well as vote-by-mail and early voting. It would also require states to establish independent redistricting commissions to carry out congressional redistricting.
While in Washington, Alonso Leon and Campos championed Oregon’s voting mail-in voting system as a model for the country and met with members of the state’s federal delegation to urge them to push for a vote on the federal bill ahead of this week’s recess.
Although Congress recessed without taking a vote on the legislation, Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden said that Alonso Leon and Campos are “powerhouse allies” in the fight to expand access and reform voting laws on behalf of Americans.
“We’re fortunate in Oregon to have a proven system that allows all eligible voters to cast a ballot at home with protections for automatic voter registration. But that’s not the case in far too many places outside Oregon,” Wyden said. “As a co-sponsor of the For The People Act, I’m proud to be fighting against retrograde attacks in other states against Americans’ constitutional voting rights and honored to have Reps. Alonso Leon and Campos on the front lines with me.”
Early last week, Alonso Leon took part in a summit held by the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL) where she heard members of Congress — including Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, and Oregon’s Sen. Jeff Merkley — speak about their commitment to protecting voting rights by pushing for a vote on the For the People Act.
Alonso Leon also participated in a live-streamed press conference hosted by the NHCSL and marched through the Capitol alongside lawmakers representing areas where voting access has come under fire.
“The For the People Act is incredibly important because it will essentially create a unified system for all states to follow,” she said. “I talked to many state legislators from across the country about what we’ve done in Oregon and I get jaws dropped at realizing how far ahead we are.”
Alonso Leon said the issue of protecting voting rights hits particularly close to home for her as the daughter of immigrants. Her parents became United States citizens following her election to the Oregon Legislature in 2016, so they could vote for her in the 2018 election.
According to Alonso Leon, that was a landmark moment for her parents who had previously thought the system was too hard to navigate, but were pleasantly surprised to find out how easy it is for Oregonians to take part in the democratic process.
She also points to increased accessibility for Oregon voters as the Legislature recently passed House Bill 3291 which will allow Oregonians to mail or drop off ballots the day of an election without fear of them being rejected. Oregon previously only counted ballots if they’d been received by 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Alonso Leon said in the future, she hopes to pass legislation that offers multilingual ballots so that people such as her parents don’t have to rely on their children, other family or friends to translate election materials for them. HB 3021 passed this session directs counties to make voter pamphlets available in the five most commonly spoken languages.
Regarding her advocacy in Washington, Alonso Leon said last week’s trip was about standing in solidarity with legislators whose constituents can’t vote as easily as Oregonians.
“This is one of those pivotal and historical experiences,” she said. “If it passes, I get to say that I represented Oregon in helping pass a much needed law to ensure that voting rights are protected, and that people all over the country get to vote and express their perspectives on who they want elected to office and what issues are important to them. That is critical.”
Campos said she was honored to stand alongside state legislators from states such as Texas and others where lawmakers are attempting to scale back access.
“We really wanted to emphasize to our senators that this attack on our democracy is widespread and we need them to act,” Campos said.
According to Campos, getting to share the experience in Washington with Alonso Leon was particularly special because the two share a lot of the same values, have similar life experiences and are both huge proponents of protecting voting rights.
They both expressed that they see attempts to scale back voting access disproportionately affecting communities of color and working families that can’t afford to take time away from work to go stand in line to vote. That facet also highlights how forward thinking Oregon’s voting system is, a point they drove home in talks with other legislators throughout the week.
“This bill will remove so many of the barriers that states are starting to create through their anti-voting laws,” Alonso Leon said. “I just can’t fathom having people be fined for giving people water as they’re waiting to vote or only creating space for voting in certain timeframes when there are so many people who work who can’t take time off to go vote. We are so lucky in Oregon.”