Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law on Monday that requires all statewide elections in California to have by-mail ballots go out to all registered voters.
Assembly Bill 37, authored by Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park), now makes AB 860, a law passed in June of last year that required all elections until 2022 have mail-in ballots be sent out a month prior to elections, permanent.
Under the new law, all registered voters in California will now have to receive a by-mail ballot at least 29 days before an election to allow for ample decide to decide and turn in. All ballots are to be accepted if postmarked by the day of the election and received by election officials up to a week after election day
Other measures under the AB 37 law include having all counties in the state provide at least one drop-off ballot location for every 30,000 voters and requiring a vote by-mail tracking system to be implemented for voters with disabilities.
Initially passed as a safety measure due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year, AB 860 stunned many lawmakers and elections officials by drastically increasing the number of people voting in California. Overall, more people by percentage voted in the 2020 election than in any election since 1952, with some counties reporting over 90% of all registered voters submitting ballots. Encouraged by this, Assemblyman Berman began working on AB 37 late last year. However, due to concerns over voter fraud, the use of inactive voters lists to send ballots out, and other measures that could result in others taking advantage of the voting system to accrue more votes, the bill quickly became a partisan issue, with the GOP opposing it and the Democrats generally favoring it.
Despite the opposition, AB 37 passed the Senate 30-7 and in the Assembly 60-17 earlier this month, leading to Governor Newsom to sign it into law on Monday.
“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,” stated Governor Newsom on Monday. “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.”
Assemblyman Berman also released a statement, noting the high turnout and California expanding voting to others while other states in the U.S., such as Georgia, are adding more restrictions.
“When voters get a ballot in the mail, they vote,” added Berman on Monday. “We saw this in the 2020 General Election when, in the middle of a global health pandemic, we had the highest voter turnout in California since Harry Truman was president. I want to thank Governor Newsom for signing AB 37, ensuring that every active registered voter in California will receive a ballot in the mail before every future election. As other states actively look for ways to make it harder for people to vote, California is expanding access to an already safe and secure ballot.”
Today @GavinNewsom signed my AB 37, ensuring every CA voter is mailed a ballot in future elections! As other states actively look for ways to make it harder for people to vote, CA is expanding access to an already safe & secure ballot. 🗳️
Press release: https://t.co/rarhCFJV8X pic.twitter.com/FPycgbXN1d
— Marc Berman (@AsmMarcBerman) September 27, 2021
Possible legal challenges ahead for AB 37
However, legal experts note that, despite Governor Newsom signing AB 37 into law and seven other states already having similar laws, the new law will likely face serious court battles heading into next year.
“Sending out ballots to all Californians in statewide general, primary, and special elections is not as legally sound as it appears,” explained LA-based lawyer Carmen Munoz to the Globe on Monday. “The signature system when sending in a ballot can be flawed, and many voters received multiple ballots in California in the last few elections. It is an oversight and they say that the system doesn’t allow double voting, but it’s still dangerous to have that many ballots floating around out there.”
“Voting is a right, but it needs to be treated like one. California is just treating it more and more like sending out a credit card statement or something. And they are are consulting inactive voters lists, which means a lot of dead people are getting ballots, or people sent to prison. And that’s not even taking into account the huge cost of sending ballots out an getting them back in. The cost of mailing a letter is 58 cents now. Times that by the 22 million registered voters in the state and, say, half of those being returned by mail. It adds up on mail costs alone, not to mention other costs like printing. A good lawyer can find a challenge in there somewhere.
“There’s a lot of issues with AB 37, and we’ll probably see some challenges as the 2022 elections near.”
Barring a lawsuit, AB 37 is set to become law officially in January.
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