Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed an executive order Friday requiring California to mail a ballot to every voter in the state ahead of the general election on Nov. 3.
Newsom said the move was prompted by public health concerns over in-person voting due to the coronavirus.
“Elections and the right to vote are foundational to our democracy,” Newsom said in a statement. “No Californian should be forced to risk their health in order to exercise their right to vote.”
Several states, including Colorado and Oregon, already mail ballots to all their voters, but California is the first to do so in response to the pandemic.
Californians who need to vote in person (i.e., unhoused individuals or disabled people who require assistance to vote) will still be able to do so at designated polling sites.
“We are meeting our obligation to provide an accessible, secure, and safe election this November,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who will oversee the process. “Sending every registered voter a ballot by mail is smart policy and absolutely the right thing to do during this COVID-19 pandemic.”
California, the most populous state in the country, has 20.6 million registered voters. Fourteen counties in the state already mail ballots to every voter.
Coronavirus has infected more than 1.2 million Americans and killed more than 76,000 people just in the U.S., and concerns over the safety of holding an in-person election in November have grown.
An unprecedented number of voters are expected to vote by mail rather than risk exposure at polling sites, making it increasingly likely that the presidential election results will trickle in over the course of days or weeks. Vote-by-mail ballots are more time-consuming to count, HuffPost’s Paul Blumenthal notes, and there are frequently delays in states reporting those results.
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has pushed conspiracy theories about voting by mail, falsely claiming absentee ballots are ripe for widespread voter fraud.
“Mail ballots ? they cheat. OK? People cheat,” Trump said in April, when Wisconsin voters were forced to go to the polls in order to vote in the state’s primary election, despite concerns over coronavirus. “Mail ballots are a very dangerous thing for this country, because they’re cheaters. They go and collect them. They’re fraudulent in many cases.”
Trump, who himself is a registered in Florida and votes by mail, has offered no evidence for those claims. Many studies have shown voter fraud is extremely rare.
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