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California Enacts Several Elections Measures

SB 970 changes the date of the statewide primary to the first Tuesday in June

By Chris Micheli, September 29, 2020 9:42 am

Four measures related to elections were enacted during the 2020 Legislative Session, including AB 2151 by Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Yuba City), which requires Internet posting of campaign documents filed with local governments; AB 860 Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park), which authorizes an all-mailed ballot November General Election; SB 423 by Senator Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana), which allows counties to limit in-person polling places; and SB 970 (Umberg) which changes the primary back to June in non-presidential years.

Assembly Bills

AB 860 (Berman)

AB 860 was signed into law by Governor Newsom on June 18 as Chapter 4.  This bill amends Elections Code Sections 3019.7, 3020, and 15101 and adds Sections 3000.5 and 3016.7 to the Elections Code. As an urgency statute, the bill took effect on the day it was signed into law.

It provides ten legislative findings and declarations in Section One of the bill.  For example, “vote by mail voting has become the means by which most Californians exercise their right to vote.”  Approximately 78% of registered voters in the March 2020 statewide primary election received a ballot in the mail.  In addition, “Broadening the ability of California residents to engage in the democratic process will yield more representative election results and will ensure that the voices of more California residents are heard.”

Section Two of the bill adds Section 3000.5 to the Elections Code to provide that, “for the statewide general election to be held on November 3, 2020, the county elections official shall, no later than 29 days before the day of the election, begin mailing the materials specified in Section 3010 to every registered voter in the county. The county elections official shall have five days to mail a ballot to each person who is registered to vote on the 29th day before the day of the election and five days to mail a ballot to each person who is subsequently registered to vote.

“The county elections official shall not discriminate against any region or precinct in the county in choosing which ballots to mail first within the prescribed five-day mailing period. The distribution of vote by mail ballots to all registered voters does not prevent a voter from voting in person at a polling place, vote center, or other authorized location.”

Section Three of the bill adds Section 3016.7 to the Elections Code to provide, “for the statewide general election to be held on November 3, 2020, the county elections official shall permit any voter to cast a ballot using a certified remote accessible vote by mail system, regardless of whether the voter is a voter with disabilities or a military or overseas voter.”

AB 2151 (Gallagher)

AB 2151 was signed into law by Governor Newsom on September 28 as Chapter 214. It adds Section 84616 to the Government Code to provide that, within 72 hours of each applicable filing deadline, a local government agency is required to post on its internet website a copy of any statement, report, or other document required by the Political Reform Act that is filed in paper format. These filings must be made available for four years. The Legislature also made the required finding and declaration that this bill furthers the purposes of the Political Reform Act of 1974.

Senate Bills

SB 423 (Umberg)

SB 423 was signed into law by Governor Newsom on August 6 as Chapter 31.  As an urgency statute, the bill took effect on the day it was signed into law. It provides four legislative findings and declarations in Section One of the bill, including that “it is important to encourage eligible voters to vote and to ensure that residents of the state have the tools needed to participate in every election.” In addition, “all Californians will be empowered to vote by mail.” Moreover, Section One contains four statements of legislative intent.

Section Two of the bill adds Chapter 7, commencing with Section 1600, to Division 1 of the Elections Code. It specifies that this chapter applies only to the November 3, 2020 statewide general election. Section 1601 provides that “a county that conducts the November 3, 2020, statewide general election pursuant to either of those sections is not required to have its vote centers open before the third day prior to the election.”

Section 1602 provides numerous procedures as an alternative to procedures for a county that does not conduct the November 3, 2020 statewide general election. Elections officials may establish consolidated polling locations and they shall be open Saturday, October 31 through Monday, November 2 for at least eight hours per day. These locations must comply with accessibility requirements of the federal ADA, HAVA and VRA.

Elections officials must also provide ballot drop-off locations. Each county, under Section 1603, must conduct a voter education and outreach campaign in all legally required languages for that county notifying voters about mail ballots, etc.  Counties are urged to provide drive-through, ballot drop-off or voting locations.

Pursuant to Section 1604, the Secretary of State must establish a process to consider requests from counties to adjust or partially waive the minimally required vote centers, consolidated polling places, or ballot drop-off locations. County elections officials must publicly notice in all legally required languages a draft plan.

SB 970 (Umberg)

SB 970 was signed into law by Governor Newsom on September 18 as Chapter 111. It amends Sections 316, 340, 1000, 1001, 1201, and 1202 of the Elections Code. Existing law requires that the statewide primary be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March in each even-numbered year.  SB 970 changes the date of the statewide primary to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in June in even-numbered years in which there is no presidential primary.

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