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Mike Pence
stated on March 3, 2021 in an op-ed in the Daily Signal:
The voting bill known as H.R. 1 "would force states to adopt universal mail-in ballots.”
true false
Former President Barack Obama greets outgoing Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen at the inauguration of Joe Biden on Jan. 20, 2021. (AP) Former President Barack Obama greets outgoing Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen at the inauguration of Joe Biden on Jan. 20, 2021. (AP)

Former President Barack Obama greets outgoing Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen at the inauguration of Joe Biden on Jan. 20, 2021. (AP)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson March 4, 2021

Mike Pence is wrong that HR 1 forces states to shift to universal mail balloting

If Your Time is short

• H.R. 1 would not force every state to conduct elections entirely by mail.

• Instead, the bill would ease the process of voting by mail for those who want to use it, without forcing anyone to stop using either early in-person voting or in-person voting on Election Day.

As a Democratic-backed bill on elections and voting worked its way through Congress, former Vice President Mike Pence wrote an op-ed critical of the measure.

H.R. 1 combines proposals for voter registration, absentee voting, in-person voting, campaign finance and ethics related to federal elections. The House passed the bill on March 3, largely along party lines.

On the same day, Pence raised multiple objections to the bill in a column that appeared in the Daily Signal, a publication of the conservative Heritage Foundation.

The one we will check here is that "the bill would force states to adopt universal mail-in ballots."

That’s not what the bill would do. The bill’s focus is on lifting state restrictions on voters who voluntarily choose to cast their ballot by mail. Put simply, it merely requires states to give everyone access to voting by mail if they want to use it.

"Every state already uses some form of mail-in ballot," said Matthew Weil, director of the elections project at the Bipartisan Policy Center. "The differences among states right now revolve around how many voters qualify to use them."

Voting experts told PolitiFact that Pence’s phrase, "universal mail-in balloting," isn’t a commonly used term.

The term "all-mail elections" is more common. This system is currently used in Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington state, and Utah. California recently moved to extend this policy temporarily. Other states that used this process for 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic have not extended it permanently.

In all-mail elections, ballots are automatically mailed to every registered voter. "The voter marks the ballot, puts it in a secrecy envelope or sleeve and then into a separate mailing envelope, signs an affidavit on the exterior of the mailing envelope, and returns the package via mail or by dropping it off," according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Some of the all-mail election states offer an in-person alternative for voting as well, but they are used far less frequently than the mail ballots.

This isn’t the only way to conduct mail voting. In many states, any qualified voter may vote absentee without offering an excuse. In the remaining states, an excuse is required. Some states offer a permanent absentee-ballot list: voters who ask to be added to the list automatically receive an absentee ballot for future elections.

What does H.R. 1 say about "all-mail elections"?

Nothing in H.R. 1 or the amendments that passed the House forces states to adopt "universal mail-in ballots." 

The law says that states cannot "impose any additional conditions or requirements" on an eligible voter’s ability to cast an absentee ballot by mail in federal elections. In addition, the bill nixes state laws requiring identification for mail ballots beyond a voter’s signature, including notarized statements.

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The bill allows states to set a "reasonable deadline" for requesting a mail ballot and returning it to elections officials. And it requires states to treat a mail-in ballot application for one election to stand as an application for all subsequent federal elections.

We contacted the Heritage Foundation, where Pence is a distinguished visiting fellow, to ask for their supporting evidence. 

They said the bill would enact the "essential equivalent" of all-mail voting by requiring states to send applications to receive an absentee ballot by mail to all registered voters and by setting a preference for absentee ballot as the permanent default for voters who choose to do so. 

Experts disagree.

"Nothing in H.R. 1 requires ‘universal mail-in ballots,’" under the definition used in Oregon, Washington, and the other states, Weil said.

There’s no question that these H.R. 1 provisions do make demands on some states -- those that require an excuse to vote absentee, those that mandate voter identification beyond signatures for mail ballots, and those that don’t have the option of choosing permanent mail voting.

But none of these provisions amount to "universal mail-in" voting. Under H.R. 1, states are not required to send everyone a mail ballot. Instead, the bill makes voting by mail an option, not compulsory. 

One section of the bill — "Methods for Requesting Ballot" —  makes clear that such ballots aren’t required to be sent automatically to voters. 

In addition, voting in person won’t be eliminated under H.R. 1, either early voting or on Election Day. The phrase "polling place" appears 82 times in the bill, and it includes a section that would require each state to offer in-person early voting. 

"H.R. 1 requires early in-person and Election Day voting access," said Danielle Lang, co-director for voting rights and redistricting at the Campaign Legal Center. "It merely requires all Americans to have access to a vote by mail option if they want to use it."

Our ruling

Pence said H.R. 1 "would force states to adopt universal mail-in ballots."

This is incorrect. H.R. 1 would not force every state to conduct elections almost entirely by mail, as several do now by sending ballots automatically to every registered voter. 

Rather, the bill would ease the process of voting by mail for those who want to use it, by lifting rules that require an excuse to vote absentee and mandating proof of identification beyond a signature. It would not require anyone to stop using either early in-person voting or in-person voting on Election Day.

We rate the statement False.

PolitiFact reporter Amy Sherman contributed to this report.

Our Sources

Mike Pence, "Election Integrity Is a National Imperative" (op-ed in the Daily Signal), Mar. 3, 2021

Text of H.R. 1, accessed March 4, 2021

U.S. House, roll call vote on H.R. 1, accessed March 4, 2021

National Conference of State Legislatures, "Voting Outside the Polling Place: Absentee, All-Mail and other Voting at Home Options," Sept. 24, 2020

KQED, "State Legislature Votes to Extend Universal Vote-by-Mail Through 2021," Feb. 16, 2021

PolitiFact, "Will COVID-19 force a massive absentee vote in November election?" March 24, 2020

Heritage Foundation, Statement to PolitiFact, March 4, 2021

Email interview with Danielle Lang, co-director for voting rights and redistricting at the Campaign Legal Center, March 4, 2021

Email interview with Matthew Weil, director of the elections project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, March 4, 2021

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Mike Pence is wrong that HR 1 forces states to shift to universal mail balloting

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