California sent vote-by-mail ballots to every registered voter in the state last year as part of its pandemic mitigation works, and that practice was left in place through this year as Newsom defeated an effort to recall him.
Newsom’s signature on Assembly Bill 37 will make that practice permanent by requiring the state to send ballots with prepaid return envelopes to all voters in statewide and regional elections.
In a statement, Newsom said, “As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options and bolstering elections integrity and transparency.”
“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.
California Secretary of State Shirley Weber said in a statement that the bill will “permanently expand access and increase participation in our elections by making voting more convenient and meeting people where they are.”
“Vote-by-mail has significantly increased participation of eligible voters,” Weber said. “Voters like having options for returning their ballot whether by mail, at a secure dropbox, a voting center, or at a traditional polling station. And the more people who participate in elections, the stronger our democracy and the more we have assurance that elections reflect the will of the people of California.”
Critics of vote-by-mail systems claim that sending ballots by mail can lead to fraud.
According to the Los Angeles Times , the new law will make California the eighth state in the nation with a law ordering ballots to be sent to registered voters by mail.
California Republican Party Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson didn’t declare a definite position on the bill.
Another proposal Newsom signed relaxes the rules around ballot signatures, giving officials more room to receive ballots if the signature doesn’t exactly resemble what’s on file. The legislation by Democratic Sen. Josh Becker bars election officials from taking a voter’s party preference into account when evaluating their signature. Republicans in the state Legislature also opposed the bill.
To deny a signature, two other elected officials must also decide if the signature differs in obvious ways from the signature in the person’s registration record.