California turns to vote-by-mail to keep residents safe come November

California Governor Gavin Newsom announced Friday that his state would issue a mail-in ballot to every registered voter for November’s election. Newsom issued the decision as an executive order in coordination with other California officials.

The order will require all county election officials to provide mail-in ballots to voters, but it also provisions for in-person voting stations for Californians with disabilities, those without an address due to homelessness and voters who need voting materials in a language other than English.

According to the order, the governor will coordinate with the secretary of state and the California legislature to make in-person voting as safe as possible. In California, the secretary of state is the top election official, tasked with overseeing voting equipment, security and accessibility.

“Today we become the first state in the nation to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by mailing every registered voter a ballot,” Secretary of State Alex Padilla said of the decision. “We are meeting our obligation to provide an accessible, secure, and safe election this November. Sending every registered voter a ballot by mail is smart policy and absolutely the right thing to do during this COVID-19 pandemic.”

With the November election looming, states are moving swiftly to adapt to the unique challenges posed by a general election in the midst of a pandemic. The primary season offered a preview of the chaos that could come for states that fail to rethink their voting systems, particularly in Wisconsin, where photos depicted long lines and crowded polling stations. As many other states bought time by pushing back their own primaries, Wisconsin went ahead with in-person voting on its original date in spite of warnings from health experts and concern among voters.

While some political figures — President Trump chief among them — seek to frame vote-by-mail as a partisan issue, the reality is that election officials in both red and blue states are looking at sending residents ballots by mail come November.

Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Utah and Hawaii already safely use vote-by-mail as their primary method of voting and incidents of voter fraud in those states — and other states that allow some voting via absentee ballot — are statistically negligible.