Earlier this week, Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto) announced that he will introduce a bill this coming session to require by-mail ballots to go out to voters in every state election.
The bill would be a follow up to Governor Gavin Newsom’s mail-in ballot executive order and Assembly Bill 860. AB 860, also authored by Berman, authorized that by-mail ballots would be given to all eligible California voters for the 2020 General Election due to unprecedented challenge of COVID-19. While many Republicans were concerned that the system could lead to problems such as fraud and double voting, subsequent changes and assurances by election officials led to many GOP lawmakers to side with the Democrats and voted to pass the law in the spring. Governor Newsom then signed the bill in June, allowing for the ballots to be printed and mailed out on time.
The mail-in ballot bill led to higher than expected numbers of mail-in ballots being turned in by voters due to the ease of voting by mail or ballot drop box, as well as COVID-19 concerns. It also led to a drastic drop in voters turning out in many precincts. San Francisco County, with 443,000 voters, only saw 6% of all voters vote via precinct on election day. Other precincts and counties recorded similar figures.
The popularity of the mail-in ballots, long touted by Berman and Secretary of State Alex Padilla, led Berman to create a bill making the system of sending mail-in ballots to all eligible voters before election day permanent.
“Our democracy is strongest when everyone participates,” said Assemblyman Burns in a statement on Monday. “This year we saw historic levels of voter participation following the passage of AB 860, which required every county to send vote-by-mail ballots to all active registered voters. More than 68% of eligible Californians voted in the general election, which was the highest turnout since at least 1960. Now that we know these changes were successful, I will introduce a bill in the new session to make permanent the key provisions of AB 860.”
Democratic support, lingering questions from Republicans
Lawmakers such as Governor Newsom have already thrown their support behind the upcoming bill, saying that they are open to such a permanent change.
“I certainly am open to pursuing it,” noted Newsom earlier this week.
While many Democrats have spoken in favor of the bill, many Republicans have remained skeptical of implementing such a ballot system permanently.
“There was a large rise in mail-in ballots this year, but we have yet to analyze the results in full yet,” said Charles Hobbs, a Southern Californian election analyst. “We need to see how many people accidentally voted twice, such as voting by mail then accidentally going to a precinct to vote for example. It was mainly digital this year, checking on votes, but we need to do a rundown and make sure how good it really is. Also, did the system lead to a rise in fraud? A rise in provisional ballots? Did the ballot boxes have too many votes ruined by people as a result? We need to figure out the data before we push to make it permanent.”
“Honestly, on the surface, it seems to have worked quite well, and both parties saw gains or candidates or propositions pass that they wanted, so it certainly seemed that neither party benefited disproportionately like a lot of early worry was about.”
“But, like I said, we need to make sure this works first.”
Berman’s bill is expected to be introduced in time for the coming session this January.