On Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill into law that will ensure registered voters are automatically mailed a ballot whether they request one or not, legislation that will make voting in the state far more accessible.
The law codifies and makes permanent a policy that was implemented in order to address voting complications during the coronavirus pandemic. California voters were sent their ballots automatically in the 2020 general election, as well as in the recent 2021 gubernatorial recall race.
“California is now PERMANENTLY a vote-by-mail state,” Newsom wrote in a tweet celebrating the development. “Because we believe in making voting EASIER and for every voice to be heard.”
California now joins a small handful of states, including Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah, that send ballots to voters automatically. However, if Golden State voters wish to cast their vote in person, they’re still able to do so under the new law.
Voting by mail has been linked to increases in voter participation in places where the option is available. During the 2020 election alone, California saw its voter turnout increase to around 70 percent, the highest rate the state has seen in more than six decades of voting, no doubt due in part to mailing ballots to every eligible voter. Automatically sending ballots out to voters has been particularly beneficial to historically disenfranchised communities.
Some lauded the policy change as one that should be implemented in other parts of the country as well.
“Vote by mail allows everyone equal access to our democracy,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California) wrote on Twitter. “Time to take it nationwide!”
The chances of a similar policy being implemented in other states are low, however — Republicans have generally been against such moves, falsely claiming that the practice is linked to higher instances of voter fraud, and that expanding access to voting by mail only benefits Democrats.
Both ideas have been refuted by several studies.
“There is no evidence that mail balloting increases electoral fraud as there are several anti-fraud protections built into the process designed to make it difficult to impersonate voters or steal ballots,” the Brookings Institute noted last summer, citing research from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
A Stanford University study also looked at the impact of universal voting by mail procedures and found that the policy doesn’t give an advantage to either party — in fact, such voting methods produce partisan outcomes that “closely resemble in-person elections,” the study’s authors concluded.
Polling also reveals that the American people want voting by mail expanded, not limited. A Monmouth University poll from June of this year found that 69 percent of voters across the country supported “establishing national guidelines to allow vote by mail and in-person early voting in federal elections in every state,” while just 25 percent opposed the idea. Half of the respondents in the poll (50 percent) also expressed an eagerness to make voting by mail easier, while only 39 percent said it should be harder to do.