Los Angeles (AP) — The California Assembly on Thursday sent Gov. Gavin Newsom a bill to require county election officials to mail a ballot to every registered voter, cementing into law the Democratic governor’s earlier order to mail out ballots statewide in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Newsom, citing health risks, announced in early May that the state will send every voter a mail-in ballot for the November contest, but that order has been challenged in court. If signed, the bill would give the order the force of law and provide “clarity” for election officials, said Assemblyman Marc Berman, a Menlo Park Democrat who sponsored the bill.
"No one should have to risk their health and possibly their life to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” Berman said in a statement. “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.”
In-person voting places will remain available for those who might need them.
The spread of mail-in voting as a reaction to potential health risks from the virus has become a point of conflict between Democrats and Republicans nationally.
President Donald Trump has been among the skeptics and has said that “a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting,” without providing evidence.
The bill was passed 68-5, with six members not voting. The opponents were all Republicans.
Republicans who backed the bill noted that ballots will not be mailed to so-called inactive voters, who have not participated in recent elections.
Historically, there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud through mail-in voting. In the state’s March primary, more than 75% of California voters received a vote-by-mail ballot.
With the move to statewide mail-in ballots, California hopes to avoid the problems that plagued presidential primaries in Wisconsin and Georgia, where thousands of voters, some without protective face masks, were forced to wait for hours in long lines.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority of people recover.