California Makes Universal Mail Voting Permanent after First Adopting It as Pandemic Response

POLITICS & POLICY
A man inspects mail-in ballots for signatures before they are processed at the Sacramento Registrar of Voters in Sacramento, Calif., September 14, 2021. (Fred Greaves/Reuters)

California Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday signed a law that makes permanent a pandemic measure that allowed the state to mail a ballot to every registered, active voter.

“Last year we took unprecedented steps to ensure all voters had the opportunity to cast a ballot during the pandemic and today we are making those measures permanent after record-breaking participation in the 2020 presidential election,” Newsom said in a statement.

When the governor and state lawmakers moved to allow universal mailed ballots for more than 22 million voters last year amid concerns over the spread of COVID-19, voter turnout jumped to the highest level in a half-century or more, according to the Los Angeles Times

Assemblyman Marc Berman, the Democrat who authored the bill, said in July that “data shows that sending everyone a ballot in the mail provides voters access.”

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“And when voters get ballots in the mail, they vote,” he said.

Still, California Republicans have criticized elections officials’ use of a list of inactive voters — individuals who may still be eligible to vote but haven’t been reachable at their mailing address on file and who have not voted in recent elections.

The new law, Assembly Bill 37, prevents ballots from being mailed to anyone on a county’s inactive voter list, though Democrats refused Republican demands to add additional rules for how counties should maintain their lists of active and inactive voters.

GOP lawmakers also sought restrictions on who can turn in a voter’s ballot and looked to have ballots postmarked by election day counted only if delivered within three days – the timeline that the state followed before changing to seven days last year.

The measure passed the Assembly and Senate along party lines after Democrats refused to honor Republicans’ requests.

AB 37 also creates new requirements for counties to offer ballot drop boxes and ensures that secure boxes are available for up to 28 days before election day.

The law will take effect in January, after which ballots will be mailed to every voter for statewide elections in June and November. It will also apply to local elections. 

The passage of AB 37 makes California the eighth state with a law requiring every voter to be mailed a ballot, according to the Los Angeles Times. California has more registered voters than the combined totals in a number of other states with similar laws.

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