Illustration by Chris Allen, Black Voice News

Drew Naté |

On September 27, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a package of legislation to increase voter access and strengthen integrity in elections, this included a bill to send all registered voters a vote-by-mail ballot. 

Assembly Bill 37 sponsored by Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park) is designed to make it more convenient for people to vote and to increase voter participation in California. 

With the bill’s signing, California becomes the eighth state, along with Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington, to have an automatic mail-in ballot system. 

In 2000, Oregon became the first state in the U.S. to conduct a presidential election with all mail-in voting. That election year saw a whopping 79% voter turnout, according to an Oregon secretary of state’s office timeline. California similarly looks to increase voter participation for future elections with the vote-by-mail ballot system.

Governor Gavin Newsom signed a package of legislation in late September to increase voter access and strengthen integrity in elections. (source: ca.gov.org)

New data analysis by the Center for Inclusive Democracy at the USC Price School found that 87.5% of California voters used vote-by-mail to cast their ballots in the 2020 General Election–an increase of more than 20 percentage points from the 2018 General Election.

Not everyone supports vote-by-mail

Although most California voters used vote-by-mail to cast their ballots last year, not everyone has embraced the idea of mail-in voting though, as former President Donald Trump and other high-level Republicans have made claims without any basis or evidence that mail voting is fraudulent. 

Some lawmakers have criticized Assembly Bill 37 stating there needs to be added regulations for inactive voters. Inactive voters can be individuals who have not been reachable at their mailing address and who have not cast ballots in recent elections, although in most cases if a voter hasn’t voted in two previous elections in most cases their registration will be cancelled. 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill that was passed early in 2021 which included new ID mandates and banned around-the-clock early voting in Texas. Georgia recently passed a law requiring voters to provide their driver’s license number or other form of ID to get or return an absentee ballot. Across the nation, states have taken different approaches to voting legislation. 

The results of a Public Policy Institute survey taken last year showed a clear difference in attitudes toward mail in voting based on political party affiliation. 

Survey of Likely Voter Support for Mail in Voting in California

Survey of likely voters in California who supported mail in voting in 2020. (ppic.org)

Statewide Voting Rights Advocate Groups and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), have been very vocal in the fight against anti-voter laws that are being passed in states all over the country. The NAACP even held a massive rally in late August in Detroit, Milwaukee and D.C. calling for new federal and state voting rights’ protections to combat voter suppression. The NAACP looks to protect the “Black vote” as Black voters statewide were crucial in the last presidential election in battleground states solidifying President Biden’s win.

What we learned in the 2020

During the 2020 election, 69% of voters nationwide cast their ballots nontraditionally, by mail and/or before Election Day, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report. This is the highest rate of nontraditional voting for a presidential election since questions regarding voting methods have been included in the survey. 

In the 2020 election, 69% of voters nationwide cast their ballot nontraditionally–by mail and/or before Election Day. (census.gov)

As California voters received a mail-in ballot because of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, it was expected that in-person voting would go down, and indeed it did. Only 12.6% of voters cast ballots at polling places or voting centers in 2020. Yet, there were still groups that voted in person in higher numbers than the general population, including Latinos (15.9%), youth (15.1%) and first-time voters (21.2%). 

Republicans also voted in-person at a higher rate (17.9%) than either Democrats (9.3%) and No Party Preference voters (12.8%). Another 16.4% of all voters dropped off their ballots at an in-person voting location.  

The 2020 Presidential Election showed and highlighted the importance of the Black Vote. In Georgia, Black voters flipped a historically red, Republican-based state into a blue state with Black voter registration increasing by 40% in both Fulton and Gwinnett counties, according to the Georgia secretary of state. 

Nationally in 2020

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, new rules made it easier to vote during the 2020 Presidential Election especially for African American voters in the Atlanta metropolitan areas where the election was won. 

As Black voters in states such as Georgia and Wisconsin have historically experienced longer lines during primary elections, California lawmakers not only looked to fight against voter suppression, but they also looked to set a standard that the vote-by-mail system works and should be something considered by other states as well. 

According to Newsom

Commenting on AB 37 Newsom stated in a press release, “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.” 

 “Last year we took unprecedented steps to ensure all voters had the opportunity to cast a ballot during the pandemic,” he continued. Adding, “[W]e are making those measures permanent after record-breaking participation in the 2020 presidential election.” 

Local voters weigh in 

During an interview with the IE Voice and Black Voice News, Vanessa Nava, a full-time student at Riverside Community College explained whether the permanent vote-by-mail process would encourage her to vote in upcoming elections.

“Yes,” Nava responded, “this definitely allows me to have a chance to vote. Being a woman that works two jobs, it was impossible to find the time to head to a polling place. With the vote-by-mail process it made it easier for me to vote in this last election since [before] I never had the time.”

Nava, who works two-part time jobs during the pandemic on top of going to school, went on to say she likely would not have voted in the last election had there not been vote-by-mail ballots.  

Nava speaks for many Californians, as most of the population voted by mail in 2020.

As the new legislation goes into effect in January, it’s important to note that ballots in California must go out at least 29 days before the election and voters will still have the option to drop off their ballot or vote in person.For more information on how to register to vote visit: registertovote.ca.gov/.

Drew Nate

Drew Nate, a resident of Corona, California, reports for Black Voice News and the IE Voice where he focuses on stories within the Inland Empire and throughout California. An advocate for equity and social...