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California to shift to universal vote-by-mail system for general election

All registered voters in the state of California may vote by mail in the November general election after California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Seth Freitas

May 22, 2020 7:20 pm

This post was updated May 22 at 8:24 p.m.

All registered voters in the state of California may vote by mail in the upcoming general election in November, following an executive order from California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“Today we become the first state in the nation to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by mailing every registered voter a ballot,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla in a statement. “We are meeting our obligation to provide an accessible, secure, and safe election this November.”

The vote-by-mail system is popular in states that have adopted it, said Sonni Waknin, a recent alumna and legal fellow at the UCLA Voting Rights Project.

“It allows people to engage more firmly in the democratic process because they are able to think and contemplate their voting choices,” Waknin said. “If you’re at home with your ballot, you can research the candidates.”

Additionally, voters can avoid the hassle of waiting in lines and voting in booths, said Nicolas Riani, a third-year public affairs student and state board chair for California Public Interest Research Group Students.

“I think there is actually an opportunity here to continue sending every voter a vote-by-mail ballot, even after this pandemic is over,” Riani said. “(Vote-by-mail) could reduce lines, which I know was a big problem here at UCLA this year, we had lines of two to four hours for students to vote.”

If instruction is to resume in the fall, this system might save students valuable time spent in line and in crowded voting booths, Riani added.

[Related: Wait times at polling centers at Ackerman Union run more than 4 hours]

However, Waknin said the UCLA Voting Rights Project is aware some voters are concerned their ballots might not be counted.

In response, some states and counties have implemented ballot tracking, which allows voters to check the progress of their ballot online, Waknin said. The UCLA Voting Rights Project has advocated to expand this feature in order to assure voters that their ballot will count, Waknin added.

People may also be concerned about the possibility of voter fraud, as well as the misplacement of ballots, Waknin said.

Waknin said a lot of states use signature matching so that when people vote by mail, election administrators match the signature on their ballot to their signature on file from the Department of Motor Vehicles or from their original voter registration.

Dan Thompson, an incoming assistant political science professor at UCLA, said he believes people should be more concerned with how difficult it will be for some states to transition to vote-by-mail than mail ballot fraud.

“In a state like California, it is very common to vote by mail, and so it wouldn’t be particularly difficult to ramp things up,” Thompson said. “But on the other hand, there are states like New Hampshire that don’t have all that many people voting by mail, and you could imagine that the ramp up might be more difficult.”

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