Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday bolstered his plan to mail every voter a ballot for the November election by signing legislation that passed earlier the same day with support from several Republicans, belying monthslong criticism of absentee voting from President Donald Trump and other GOP leaders.
Newsom had already ordered county elections officials to send all eligible Californians ballots in an effort to prevent the general election from becoming a coronavirus health hazard. But that directive has drawn multiple legal challenges — including from the California Republican Party — so enshrining the all-mail mandate in statute puts it on stronger legal footing.
By signing Assembly Bill 860 into law, Newsom defused the principal legal argument against the universal vote-by-mail argument. Plaintiffs argued he had exceeded his authority by implementing a sweeping change to election management without consulting the Legislature.
California elected officials wanted to avoid a situation like Wisconsin’s April primary, which saw long lines potentially expose voters to other people for long periods. Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto) said AB 860 would prevent Californians from being effectively disenfranchised. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla also supports the measure.
“No one should have to risk their health and possibly their life to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” Berman said.
The bill would not end in-person voting, which by state law must still be available. A companion measure in the Senate would expand opportunities to physically cast ballots on Election Day and in the preceding days; a Newsom executive order doing the same is tangled up in a court fight.
The Assembly passed the bill on a 63-3 vote Thursday morning and immediately sent it to Newsom. It takes effect immediately as an urgency measure that received two-thirds support from both houses.
Republicans who backed the bill commended language ensuring that ballots will not be mailed to inactive voters who have not participated in recent elections. The Trump administration has seized on a lawsuit finding inactive voters on the rolls to falsely claim California is mailing ballots to ineligible voters.
Mail voting has become a partisan flashpoint as Democrats look to expand the option ahead of the presidential election. Trump has decried mail ballots for disadvantaging Republicans and on multiple occasions has falsely asserted it led to fraud in California. Trump’s reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee have budgeted millions to fight expansions in court.