The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

California will now mail ballots to voters in all elections, in permanent extension of pandemic-era practice

Mail-in ballots run through a sorting machine in Sacramento on Aug. 30. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)
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All California voters will now receive a ballot mailed to them whether they request it or not, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced Monday, in a move long sought by state Democrats who have argued that it will make it easier for residents to take part in future elections.

“BREAKING: California is now PERMANENTLY a vote-by-mail state,” Newsom said in a tweet after signing the measure, Assembly Bill 37. “Because we believe in making voting EASIER and for every voice to be heard.”

The legislation permanently extends vote-by-mail provisions enacted in California during the coronavirus pandemic. Those provisions were in place during the 2020 election as well as during this month’s unsuccessful campaign to recall Newsom.

Even though ballots will be mailed for each election, California voters can still opt to go to the polls in person if they prefer.

California joins several other states — such as Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — that have been mailing ballots to all voters even before the coronavirus pandemic. Republicans in California’s state legislature opposed the legislation and were unsuccessful in pushing for changes to the measure.

California Secretary of State Shirley Weber (D), who oversees the state’s elections, said the new law is likely to boost voter participation.

“Vote-by-mail has significantly increased participation of eligible voters,” Weber said in a statement, according to the Sacramento Bee. “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. 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.”

According to Weber’s office, nearly 87 percent of Californians who voted in the 2020 general election cast their ballot by mail. That compares with about 65 percent in 2018 and 58 percent in 2016.

About 17.8 million Californians voted in 2020. That figure represents more than 70 percent of eligible voters — a level of turnout unseen in the state for more than 60 years.