California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference at the California justice department on September 18, 2019 in Sacramento, California. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
SAN FRANCISCO — Gov. Gavin Newsom raised the possibility Tuesday that California could permanently move to its pandemic-driven approach of mailing all voters a ballot after the state saw record early turnout for the November election.
Before Tuesday’s polls opened, more than 12 million California voters had submitted ballots, over half of those registered in the state. The state moved to an all-mail system in an attempt to deter crowds from polling places during Covid-19.
“We’ll discuss that with the Legislature, but I think making voting easier, providing more choice and more opportunity is fabulous,” Newsom said in an Election Day get-out-the-vote stop at Manny’s, a Mission District hot spot. With so many California voters already having cast ballots, Newsom spent his morning texting hundreds of individual voters in the critical swing state of Pennsylvania.
The Democratic governor said Tuesday that California’s system has exceeded expectations — and appears a proven success if turnout is the measure. Experts believe the state is well on its way toward shattering its 2016 record of 14.6 million ballots cast.
“This trend has predated Covid in California — a significant increase, election after election, in people voting by mail and absentee … Covid has accelerated that trend,’’ he told reporters. “And I think the expectations will be all across this country that people will demand more choice so they can exercise their voice.”
“That’s a good thing — as long as we can track, as long as everybody feels confident in that system and process,” he added.
Newsom in May signed an executive order mandating that all registered voters in California would receive a ballot for the November election — a move he said was necessary because no state resident “should have to risk their health in order to exercise their right to vote.”
The Legislature followed suit with a bill enacting the same approach, intended to bolster the mail election against legal challenges. The bill passage was prescient; a Sutter County judge on Monday ruled in favor of two Republican assemblymembers who alleged that Newsom have overstepped his executive authority by ordering an election change.
California was already on its way toward a system that mails all voters a ballot. A 2016 law called the Voter’s Choice Act enabled select counties to do so, and five counties took that approach in 2018. Ten additional counties signed on for this year. But when the pandemic struck, the Voter’s Choice Act became an immediate model for the entire state.
While all registered, active voters receive a ballot, they do not have to rely on mailing them in. They can also turn in their ballots at drop boxes located throughout their counties — anywhere from grocery stores to government offices.
They also can take their ballot to a vote center and participate in person; the centers have more services, allowing residents to register to vote, update their address or obtain a ballot if they never received one. This year, professional sports arenas opened their doors to serve as massive vote centers to accommodate larger numbers.
Democrats dominated the first three weeks of early voting, encouraged by party leaders to participate as early as possible to avoid any late election challenges such as U.S. Postal Service delays or long lines at polling places. But Republican turnout numbers increased as California opened vote centers in the past two weeks.
Voting by mail became politicized this year, with President Donald Trump and Republicans taking aim at California in particular. They alleged that the state’s mail ballot system was vulnerable to fraud, which drove many Republicans to vote in person rather than send in their absentee ballots, a reversal of past behavior.
Republicans also had cast aspersions on the mail balloting system after the 2018 midterm elections that saw Democrats reduce the GOP’s House membership to seven out of 53 seats. Republicans pointed to a “ballot harvesting” system that involved Democratic volunteers picking up ballots from voters and delivering them to elections offices. The GOP countered this fall with unofficial ballot boxes posted in battleground congressional districts that triggered a legal battle with Democratic state officials.
Newsom’s suggestion Tuesday that the system could be a permanent feature in California elections was met with enthusiastic praise by a crowd of other elected officials on hand at the Election Day event.
“Definitely … it’s one of the reasons we had such a high voter turnout here,” said San Francisco Mayor London Breed. “In San Francisco, we made it so easy for people,’’ a contrast to “what I’ve seen in other parts of the country, where voters are disenfranchised, that breaks my heart.”
Kevin Yamamura contributed to this report.
View original post