California’s pandemic-inspired move toward mailing a ballot to every registered, active voter will become a permanent part of the state’s political landscape, an embrace of an extended and flexible voting process instead of the traditional focus on a single day of voting in person.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature Monday on Assembly Bill 37 makes California the eighth state in the nation with a law on the books requiring every voter to be mailed a ballot. The new law is part of an evolution of voting in the state over the last two decades, an effort to provide voters more options for when and where to cast their ballots.
“Data shows that sending everyone a ballot in the mail provides voters access. And when voters get ballots in the mail, they vote,” Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), the bill’s author, said during a Senate committee hearing in July.
The law takes effect in January and will require ballots to be mailed to all voters for statewide elections in June and November. AB 37 also applies to local elections, potentially improving turnout in community contests but also increasing costs, given that vote-by-mail ballots are provided with prepaid postage.
The idea of universal mailed ballots has been discussed by state officials and voting rights activists for years, but it’s unclear whether the effort would have succeeded if not for the COVID-19 pandemic. Amid public health concerns about in-person voting, Newsom and lawmakers took temporary action to mail ballots to more than 22 million voters last fall — an election with voter turnout at levels not seen in California for a half-century or more.
“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 in a written statement.