California Becomes All-Mail Ballot State

Photo by Tiffany Tertipes on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Sacramento, CA – Quietly and without fanfare, Governor Newsom signed a package of legislation that included a provision to send all registered voters a vote-by-mail ballot.

AB 37, authored by Assemblymember Marc Berman (Menlo Park), makes permanent the measure to send a vote-by-mail ballot to every active registered voter that was originally an emergency provision under COVID.

The governor’s office called it “a move to increase access to democracy and enfranchise more voters.”

The practice of sending vote-by-mail ballots to every registered voter first began in California in 2020, and was extended through 2021, as a safety measure to counteract pandemic-related disruptions and which resulted in record voter participation.

“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,” said Governor Newsom.

He added, “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. I extend my thanks to Assembly Elections Committee Chair Assemblymember Marc Berman for his leadership on this issue.”

All-mail balloting has at times been controversial—as it was in the 2020 presidential election when former President Trump discouraged Republicans, who had traditionally relied heavily on mail balloting to vote at the polls.

Locally in Davis there was a bit of controversy when the school district in the March 2012 Special Election went to an all-mail ballot.  The school district chose that because the cost borne on the county was substantially lower than an election where all polling places remained open.

Despite a newspaper columnist complaining about the lack of ballot security, no problems were reported.

In 2019 (well before the current controversies), the Vanguard analyzed the data from 2018 and suggested that California ought to go to all-mail elections.  That was in part because, increasingly, residents were voting that way anyway.

In November 2018, in what will turn out to be the final general election with in-person voting in California, of the 29,000 votes cast in Davis, only a little over 9000 of them (32.2 percent) voted at the polls.

County-wide in Yolo, around 52,000 people voted by mail that year compared to just 18,000 at the polls.

The AP reported at the time that five counties, including Sacramento and Napa, experimented by sending mail ballots to all registered voters.  Their hope was that the number of people voting would increase and, indeed, California set records this year in November for mid-term voter turnout.

In 2010, about 40 percent of the vote in California was vote by mail.  By the 2014 primary, it was up to 69.4 percent.  And by 2018, it was around 75 percent.

We asked Jesse Salinas about the prospect of going all-mail, which he seemed at that time to think was in the cards at some point.  That has now been decided at the state level, even as other states are moving in the other direction.

“The bill will permanently expand access and increase participation in our elections by making voting more convenient and meeting people where they are,” said Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber.

She continued, “Vote-by-mail has significantly increased participation of eligible voters. Voters like having options for returning their ballot whether by mail, at a secure drop box, a voting center or at a traditional polling station. And the more people who participate in elections, the stronger our democracy and the more we have assurance that elections reflect the will of the people of California.”

“When voters get a ballot in the mail, they vote,” said Assemblymember Berman. “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.”

Governor Newsom also signed SB 35 authored by Senator Tom Umberg (Santa Ana) making changes to the distance within which electioneering and specified political activities near a voting site are prohibited.

He signed AB 1367 by Assemblymember Evan Low of Campbell, increasing penalties for the egregious personal use of campaign funds to up to two times the amount of the unlawful expenditure.

Finally he signed SB 686 by Senator Steve Glazer requiring an LLC that is engaged in campaign activity to provide additional information regarding the members and capital contributors to the LLC.

One announcement not made was whether he would sign SB 660 by Assemblymember Josh Newman, which prohibits organizers of recalls, initiatives and referenda from paying signature gatherers on a per-signature or “bounty” basis.

Newman in an article in CalMatters said that he intends to introduce two bills next session that also address the recall process. “The first would raise the threshold for the number of signatures needed to qualify a recall effort, from 12% to 20% of the participating electorate in the last election.”

The second would eliminate the Part B question on the recall ballot and designate the lieutenant governor as successor in case of recall.

“Such a change would strip out the very clear, current incentive for political mischief and restore the recall process to being a means to achieve justice, as the framers intended,” he wrote, noting that for now “SB 660 offers the most immediate rescue. Because bounty-paid signature gatherers optimize their compensation by persuading voters to sign as rapidly as possible, professional signature gatherers routinely employ misleading information and outright lies in order to collect the maximum signatures in the minimum amount of time.”

SB 660 would not require ballot approval, while his other proposals would.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Keith Olsen

    California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options and bolstering elections integrity and transparency,” said Governor Newsom.

    Only 2 lies out of 4, that’s good for Newsom.  All mail-in-voting doesn’t bolster elections integrity and transparency.  If anything it makes it easier to cheat.

    In 2019 (well before the current controversies), the Vanguard analyzed the data from 2018 and suggested that California ought to go to all-mail elections. 

    Well, I’m sure that was the deciding factor.

  2. Edgar Wai

    How does mail-in-voting bolster integrity and transparency?

    Transparency means:

    1. Each voter can verify his own vote.

    2. Each voter can verify how many people voted in their household.

    3. Anyone can verify whether there are too many or too few votes on each street/district.

    4. Anyone can verify that each vote came from a voter, each voter voted once and their vote is counted correctly.

    5. Anyone can verify who made each vote.

    If the system can meet criteria 4 then it is as transparent as it needs to be. If voting is not anonymous then it would get to criteria 5.

    In our system we don’t even meet criteria 1. We can’t even verify how our own votes are counted.

  3. Keith Olsen

    So much for the integrity of mail in voting:

    The audit of 2020 elections in Arizona found 49,000 votes raised questions of authenticity and legitimacy of election outcomes. According to the audit report, more than 23,000 votes came from people who no longer lived at the address where their mail-in ballot was sent.
    In addition, 9,000 more mail-in ballots were received than sent out by the county, while another 5,000 voters potentially voted in several counties. State lawmakers said they would refer these findings for criminal prosecution.

    1. Don Shor

      So much for the integrity of mail in voting:

      It is misleading to call the election review by Cyber Ninjas an “audit.” The firm has no experience in this field and no credibility on this or any other topic. Biden won Arizona, the election officials certified it, and there is no question about the integrity of that election based on any reasonable evidence or analysis.
      Ultimately these questions about election integrity are just being put forth as part of the big lie ongoing from Trump and his supporters.

      1. Keith Olsen

        Do you realize that their Arizona audit determined that Biden had won and by more votes than originally reported.  The audit showed Biden winning 99 more votes than he did in the certified ballot count last year. Trump, meanwhile, came up 261 votes short in last year’s official results.  But it also showed the integrity of 49,000 mail in votes were in question.

        1. Don Shor

          Do you realize that their Arizona audit determined that Biden had won and by more votes than originally reported. The audit showed Biden winning 99 more votes than he did in the certified ballot count last year. Trump, meanwhile, came up 261 votes short in last year’s official results. But it also showed the integrity of 49,000 mail in votes were in question.

          It’s not a audit.
          The group doing this has no credibility.
          There is no question about the Arizona election integrity. It was certified by the election officials.
          You are posting a lie and citing a source that is not credible. It is a far-right pseudo-news pro-Trump website with a long history of outright falsehoods, which you are repeating.

        2. Keith Olsen

          Here’s an article from CNBC who called it an audit, hardly a conservative news source

          Cyber Ninjas’ GOP-backed audit of Arizona votes still shows Biden won, Maricopa County says


          Even Maricopa County called it an audit, I’ll take their word for it over your opinion:


          Maricopa County


          BREAKING: The #azaudit draft report from Cyber Ninjas confirms the county’s canvass of the 2020 General Election was accurate and the candidates certified as the winners did, in fact, win.

    2. Matt Williams

      So much for the integrity of mail in voting:

      Keith, rather than citing secondary sources, perhpas it would be more accurate to quote the CEO of the firm that conducted the audit.  This is what he said in his testimony before the Arizona Senate.

      “The ballots that were provided to us to count in the coliseum very accurately correlate with the official canvass numbers,” Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan said during the presentation. He noted that the hand recount found President Joe Biden gaining 99 votes in Maricopa County and former President Donald Trump losing 261 votes — which he called “very small discrepancies.”

      In addition, the story you provided the link to repeats work-in-process information that as the audit proceeded was shown to be incorrect.

      In an earlier meeting, Logan, the Cyber Ninjas CEO, said that Maricopa County had received and counted more than 74,000 mail-in ballots “where there is no clear record of them being sent” to voters, and said the discrepancy merited a massive door-knocking campaign to check the veracity of the votes. That claim was shown to be false. In fact, those 74,000 ballots were early votes cast in-person.

      The audit report also was very clear in its statements about the questions about the ballots that your quote references/alleges.

      The report points to tens of thousands of ballots that Cyber Ninjas says it could not fully vet, saying there were inconsistencies when Maricopa County’s voter registrations were compared to a commercial data company’s records. The report includes heavy caveats around those doubts, noting that they do not necessarily mean votes were improperly cast.

      The Arizona Senate will work with the Election Office to further research those ballots.

  4. Edgar Wai

    A method of using online viewable data for more transparent anonymous voting:

    1. The list of registered voters is publicly viewable. The list of voters is frozen at the start of the voting period. (People may use their methods to collaboratively verify that each voter is legit)

    2. Each ballot has an assigned password for each serial number and allows the voter to attach a publicly viewable custom code when they submit the vote.

    3. Anyone can view or download the data, which shows all serial numbers, their choices, and any custom code attached. It does not show the password assigned by the system.

    4. If the voter sees an error, they could use the assigned password to correct the error until the voting period is over.

    Since the data is downloadable, no one should be surprised when poll closes. With the method above, how a person initially votes is irrelevant. They could all be mail-in-ballots as long as the data is downloadable.

  5. Ron Glick

    California Democrats seek to solidify their majority by making it easier to vote. Many Republican controlled states seek to solidify their majority by restricting access to voting. Both play the game but only one lives up to the ideals of the constitution.

      1. Ron Glick

        Who cares? Why is that relevant to my comment? One group seeks to expand access to stay in power the other to restrict access to stay in power. Only one lives up to the democratic American ideal of one person one vote.

        Besides it doesn’t hold up in CA. In 2018, the late mail in vote broke big for the Dems.

        In Davis in 2018, it broke for paying teachers extra.

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