California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill Thursday requiring that a mail-in ballot be sent to every registered voter in the state for the presidential election in November.
Newsom in May ordered that county elections officials send every voter a mail-in ballot for the November election, citing the health threats of voting in person during the coronavirus pandemic, but that order was met with legal challenges from the California Republican Party and others. Critics argued that the Democratic governor’s order would send ballots to voters listed as “inactive” and that Newsom had exceeded his authority in not consulting the legislature.
Thursday’s bill, Assembly Bill 860, which was approved earlier in the day by the state Assembly in a 63-to-3 vote, establishes Newsom’s order as law. Only six members, all Republicans, opposed the bill. Republicans who voted for the bill noted that it would not require sending ballots to inactive voters.
“No one should have to risk their health and possibly their life to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” said Assemblyman Marc Berman, a Menlo Park Democrat and one of the bill’s sponsors. “In the midst of a deadly health pandemic, giving all California voters the opportunity to vote from the safety of their own home is the responsible thing to do.”
State law requires that in-person voting remain available.
The bill also extends the window for mail ballots arriving after Election Day to be counted from three days after the election to 17 days, a change that Republican National Committee member Harmeet Dhillon criticized as “bizarre.”
“There is a lot of opportunity for mischief,” Dhillon said of the extended 17-day period. “There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty.”
Democrats have pushed for voting by mail to protect voters from having to leave their homes to vote, possibly exposing themselves to the coronavirus. More than a dozen states either delayed their primary elections or expanded voting by mail as the pandemic continued.
Mail ballots have resulted in several recent instances of fraud, including the coercion of elderly voters in Texas and a ballot-harvesting scheme in North Carolina during the 2018 midterms that caused GOP congressional candidate Mark Harris’s victory to be voided. In California, cases have cropped up in which dozens of ballots were sent to the same person, or a ballot was sent to an undocumented immigrant who had never registered to vote.
President Trump has opposed the widespread use of mail-in ballots, saying it is a breeding ground for voter fraud and “puts the election at risk.”
Trump said in an interview with Politico on Thursday that he worries Republican legal challenges to efforts by Democrats to allow widespread mail-in voting will fail.
“My biggest risk is that we don’t win lawsuits,” Trump said. “We have many lawsuits going all over. And if we don’t win those lawsuits, I think — I think it puts the election at risk.”