SACRAMENTO – Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park), Chair of the Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting, is authoring legislation that would require every registered voter in California to be mailed a ballot for the 2020 General Election. That measure, Assembly Bill 860 (AB 860), cleared its first hurdle today, passing out of the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee, 4-1.
“No one should have to risk their health – and possibly their life – to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” said Assemblymember Berman. “There is a very real concern that we could see a surge in coronavirus cases in the fall. Mailing every California voter a ballot, and providing them with the opportunity to vote from the safety of their own home, is essential to ensuring that we can conduct an open, accessible, and safe election this November.”
Approximately 78% of California’s registered voters received a ballot in the mail before the March Primary this year. Since California held its statewide primary election, at least 16 states either postponed their scheduled primary elections or switched them to vote by mail elections due to concerns that conducting in-person voting during the spread of COVID-19 threatens the health and safety of voters, election workers, and the public generally. States that have held or are planning to hold primary elections after the spread of COVID-19 have reported substantial increases in the number of voters seeking to vote by mail. In anticipation of heightened interest in voting by mail, AB 860 (Berman) proactively ensures that all registered California voters will receive a ballot in the mail. Utah, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, and Colorado also mail ballots to all registered voters.
Importantly, in-person voting opportunities would remain available for voters in a manner that protects the health and safety of voters and election workers. Senate Bill 423 by Senator Tom Umberg (D-Orange County), Chair of the Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments, would require county elections officials to establish and maintain a minimum number of polling places and vote centers for the statewide general election on November 3, 2020. The measure was introduced alongside AB 860 (Berman) in May to protect both public health and voting rights amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Assemblymember Berman and Senator Umberg announced the package of bills in a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom in which they expressed their concern over the impacts COVID-19 could have on the 2020 General Election and urged the Governor to issue an executive order requiring that all voters be mailed a ballot for the November election until that requirement can be formalized through the adoption of legislation. On May 8th, Governor Newsom issued the requested executive order, signaling to counties that they should begin preparations to guarantee every registered voter in California receives a ballot in the mail this fall. Since that time, at least two federal lawsuits have been filed challenging the validity of that executive order. In light of those lawsuits, it remains essential to enact AB 860 (Berman).
AB 860 (Berman) now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The bill is supported by American Civil Liberties Union of California, Black Women for Wellness, California Calls, California Common Cause, California Donor Table, California Environmental Justice Alliance, California Federation of Teachers, California Labor Federation, California League of Conservation Voters, California School Employees Association, California Teachers Association, Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, Courage California, Disability Rights California, Inland Empire United, League of Women Voters of California, Million Voters Project, NARAL Pro-Choice California, Power California, SEIU California, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Assemblymember Marc Berman represents the 24th Assembly District, which includes southern San Mateo County and northern Santa Clara County in the heart of the Silicon Valley. Website of Assemblymember Marc Berman: www.assembly.ca.gov/Berman. Assemblymember Marc Berman’s official headshot is available here.