California will now mail ballots to voters in all elections, extending a practice temporarily adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent the spread of the virus at polling locations.
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday signed Assembly Bill 37, which requires county elections officials to mail a ballot to every active registered voter for all elections, whether they request it or not. Voters can still choose to vote at physical polling locations, if they prefer.
The new law will also permanently extend the time mail ballots have to arrive at elections offices from three days to seven days after an election, a practice adopted in 2020.
“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,” Newsom said in a statement. “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.”
According to state records, just over 70% of eligible Californians voted in 2020, the highest general election turnout rate since 1952.
In 2020, lawmakers passed a law requiring elections officials to mail ballots to active, registered voters for the presidential election in light of the pandemic. According to data from the Secretary of State’s office, 86.7% of votes were cast by mail ballots in that election.
The practice was extended through 2021, with lawmakers citing continued contagion concerns, and used in the Sept. 14 recall against Newsom. Ballot tracking in that election showed that Democrats were more likely to return mail ballots than Republicans.
Secretary of State Shirley Weber, the state’s top election official, said AB 37 is likely to increase voter participation.
“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,” she said in a statement. “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.”