Millions of voters around the country file absentee ballots via mail, paying small sums of money to send their completed forms to the local election office.
U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, a Democrat from Fort Worth, wants to make it free to cast an absentee ballot, likening the small amount of money to pay for a stamp to poll taxes that were once levied throughout the South.
“When I was a campaign worker, you would meet people who would want to vote but didn’t have any money for postage,” Veasey said. “It happens more often than people think.”
Veasey introduced the Postage Free Ballot Act last week, a bill that would eliminate the cost of postage for absentee ballots in every election, not just presidential races. The bill won’t be considered until the new Congress convenes in January.
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Despite an incoming Donald Trump administration and Republican majorities in the House and Senate, Veasey is confident the bill will garner bipartisan support.
“There’re a lot of Republicans in the state of Texas that vote by mail, probably more than Democrats,” Veasey said. “We make it an incentive to make it easier for seniors to be able to vote. I do believe, from a personal experience, it discourages people from voting. It’s the hassle of getting the stamp that is my biggest concern.”
In the early 1900s, Texas had a poll tax that required voters to pay $1.50 and $1.75 each to cast a ballot – a substantial amount of money at the time that effectively prevented many African-Americans and poor whites from voting.
Stamps currently cost 47 cents, and in April U.S. stamp prices were lowered for the first time since 1919. Under Veasey’s proposal, states would reimburse the U.S. Postal Service for the cost of mailing ballots.
But Veasey is also concerned that postage costs and the process of buying a stamp causes more voters to hand their absentee ballots over to a party official or someone else to drop off at an election office, thereby increasing the chances of someone tampering with ballots.
“A lot of seniors would be discouraged from calling up their favorite candidate or party official and asking for that kind of help,” Veasey said. “The law is written to discourage people from helping with their ballot.”
Since entering Congress in 2013, Veasey has made voting rights a large part of his legislative agenda. He chairs the voting rights caucus, an informal group of lawmakers who bemoaned alleged voter suppression efforts during the November election.
Veasey also was the lead plaintiff in the court case that challenged Texas’s voter ID law. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July that the law discriminated against minorities.
“As soon as I get to Congress, we’ll immediately start reaching out to members on both sides of the aisle,” Veasey said. “We’re going to have a very busy first half of the year, and we’re going to have our work cut out for us.”