CSAC Bulletin Article

Governor Orders Mailed Ballots for November

May 15, 2020

Governor Newsom issued an Executive Order requiring counties to send vote-by-mail ballots for the November election to all registered voters, while also retaining options for in-person voting opportunities. The order will ensure that all registered voters have a chance to vote without risking their health by congregating at polling places.

The details around how in-person options will be implemented have yet to be worked out, and the Governor’s press statement holds out the possibility of future executive orders on that issue, if counties do not yet have clarity by May 30. In-person voting options will be important for many types of voters, including those with language needs and those with disabilities.

The order, along with statements from the Governor, the Secretary of State, and the chairs of the Senate and Assembly committees governing election policy, are noticeably silent on the question of how the costs of this order will be paid. The final costs resulting from this Order will depend significantly on what type, and how many, in-person voting opportunities will need to be available. The Governor’s May Revision notes that the state has $36.3 million of funding from the CARES Act available to pay for costs associated with voting by mail and related needs, but does not indicate how he plans to use the funds. Counties that have adopted the vote-center model already have equipment at each vote center that is able to print a ballot for any registered voter in the county. Other counties might need to procure the necessary equipment in advance of November’s election.

Other factors that will require careful thought and planning by county officials include polling places and poll workers. Historically, most poll workers have been in the age range that is at high-risk for complications due to COVID-19. Likewise, many of the most reliable polling places are located at community gathering places—such as community centers, schools, and churches. While the fact that they are gathering places has been a benefit in the past, social distancing requirements could affect their willingness to continue as polling places.

The more in-person voting locations are available, the smaller the crowds—and the health risk—will be at each one. However, the greater the number of locations, the more staffing and special equipment counties will need to provide. Finding the balancing point between those interests will be the aim as negotiations continue over the coming weeks.

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