California Republicans’ Demonization of Voting by Mail May Backfire

A California voter goes to drop off her mail ballot. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

In an entirely predictable development earlier this week, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature to make permanent the mail-ballot system the state used under emergency powers in both 2020 and the 2021 recall election. That means henceforth every registered voter in California will receive a mail ballot (with a postage-prepaid return envelope) for every primary and general election.

Thus California becomes the eighth state (plus the District of Columbia) to move to an all-mail ballot system (with limited availability for in-person voting). Others are Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington.

Pandemic rules aside, this is not a big leap for California. Voting by mail began to account for a majority of ballots in primary and general elections in 2012 and has since steadily climbed. Prior to the 2020 general election, however, voters had to either specifically request mail ballots or register (and regularly vote) as permanent by-mail voters. The percentage of total ballots cast by mail drifted upward from 72 percent in the 2020 primary (conducted under the old rules) to 87 percent in the general election (the first in which ballots were proactively mailed to all registered voters). As in 2020 and the recall, the new law allows voters to drop off mail ballots at secure locations or, subject to local availability, to vote in person on Election Day.

While California voters are pretty accustomed to voting by mail, Republicans there as everywhere have absorbed a massive quantity of disinformation from Donald Trump and his followers regarding the reliability of mail ballots. At a state GOP convention this past weekend, there was some open grumbling that irrational fears about mail ballots and “rigged elections” (some of them fanned late in the recall election by both Trump and replacement candidate Larry Elder) may have suppressed “yes” votes in the recall. If the GOP is ever going to mount a comeback in the Golden State, or even maintain its 2020 gains in the 2022 midterms, that might need to change now that the new system is permanent. But this local need may conflict with Trump’s national crusade to use last year’s phony fraud claims to justify a future election coup of his own.

California GOP’s Demonization of Voting by Mail May Backfire