California Governor Orders Mail-In Ballots for November, In-Person Voting to Remain

May 8, 2020 Updated: May 9, 2020

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday signed an executive order to allow every registered voter in the state the ability to vote by mail for the Nov. 3 general election—becoming the first U.S. state to do so—to help ensure voter participation while reducing the spread of the CCP virus.

“I signed an executive order that will allow every registered voter in California to receive a mail-in ballot. That mail-in ballot is important but it’s not an exclusive substitute to physical locations,” Newsom said during his daily news briefing on the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, a novel coronavirus that emerged in China late last year.

“People that are otherwise not familiar with mail-in ballots, are uncomfortable with them, may have disabilities, may have other issues that may preclude that as an appropriate option, we still want to have the appropriate number of physical sites for people to vote as well,” he said.

On Twitter, Newsom announced: “CA is now a vote by mail state. Every registered voter will receive a mail-in ballot for the Nov election. We’ll also provide safe in-person voting options. The right to vote is foundational to our democracy. No one should be forced to risk their health to exercise that right.”

County elections officials will start mailing registered voters the ballots 29 days before the election, as per the elections code noted in the executive order (pdf).

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who joined Newsom by phone at the daily briefing, said the decision will be “great for public health, it’s great for voting rights, it’s going to be great for participation because this November’s election is still slated to be the consequential election of our lifetime.”

Democrats contend that mail-in ballots are necessary to maintain voter turnout in November. Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have pointed out that mail-in voting may be susceptible to fraud.

Tim Murtaugh, the director of communications for Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign, said that Newsom’s executive order “is a thinly-veiled political tactic by Gov. Newsom to undermine election security.”

“There’s a vast difference between people voting absentee by mail because they can’t be at the polls on Election Day versus mailing everyone a ballot. Sending everyone a ballot—even those who didn’t request one—is a wide open opportunity for fraud,” Murtaugh said in a statement.

“California has a bad record on ensuring that people on the voter rolls still live at the same address, still reside in California, or are even still alive. Everyone is concerned about the safety of voters, but jeopardizing election security is the wrong way to go about it.”

People walk past empty stores and restaurants
People walk past empty stores and restaurants closed due to impact of the CCP virus in Beverly Hills, California, on May 8, 2020. (Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images)

Newsom announced the ballots as California’s economy gradually reopened, with retail curbside pickup, manufacturing, and other lower-risk activities allowed to resume on Friday.

He said that about 70 percent of the economy in California can “open with modifications,” but businesses are unlikely to go back to their former levels of employees or customers in this second phase of reopening.

“Just because we announce we have a variation on an opening and people can do curbside pickup, there’s a sense that things are moving again, doesn’t mean that customers are confident and comfortable yet,” he said.

Newsom encouraged Californians to shop at small, independently owned stores that were forced to close as “big box” competitors stayed open.

“Look out for your neighborhood florist. Look out for your neighborhood business. They need your support and they haven’t gotten the kind of support they deserve. You will be determinative of whether or not they survive,” the governor said.

“So if it means you gotta go an extra block or two, seek them out, find them, make some calls … don’t just go to that big box retailer. They’ve had a little advantage on things like this and it’s time to rebalance things.”

He noted that California was suffering higher unemployment than the 14.7 percent national average announced on Friday, based on the 4.3 million people who applied for jobless benefits in the state since March 12.

“We’re not at 14.7 percent, the state of California is north of 20 percent right now,” Newsom said.

Newsom hinted on Friday that the next phase of reopening may come soon.

“Phase 3 is not a year away. It’s not 6 months away. It’s not even three months away. It may not even be more than a month away,” he said.

“We just want to make sure we have a protocol in place to secure customer safety, employee safety, and allow the businesses to thrive in a way that is sustainable.”

Phase three of reopening the state would involve workplaces deemed “higher risk” because such businesses—which include hair and nail salons, gyms, and movie theaters—involve closer proximity between people.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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