California Sets In-Person Voting Rules Under Virus Threat

The governor’s office said the order would ensure in-person voting options are available in sufficient numbers to allow voters to maintain physical distancing.

People vote at an early voting station for the special election between Democratic state assembly woman Christy Smith and Republican businessman and ex-Navy pilot Mike Garcia to replace former Democratic Congresswoman Katie Hill in the state's 25th Congressional District, in Lancaster, California on May 10, 2020.
Photo by MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that California will establish hundreds of locations around the state where voters can cast ballots in-person, a month after he decided to send every registered voter a mail-in ballot for the November election.

The decision is an effort by the administration to balance the necessity of protecting public health during the coronavirus outbreak, while recognizing that some residents want, or need, to vote in person.

“We are committed to protecting the hard-fought right for Californians to make their voices heard this November, even in the face of a pandemic,” Newsom said in a statement.

His earlier order to send each voter a mail-in ballot was criticized by national Republicans, who saw it as a possible pathway to large-scale abuse. President Donald Trump has said that “a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting,” though, historically, there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud through using the mail.

Newsom’s announcement Wednesday also was followed by criticism. In a tweet, state Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, a Republican from Rocklin, northeast of Sacramento, called the order unlawful and another reason to lift Newsom’s broad emergency powers during the virus outbreak.

The governor’s office said the order would ensure in-person voting options are available in sufficient numbers to allow voters to maintain physical distancing. Counties must open a minimum of one in-person voting location for every 10,000 registered voters, beginning the Saturday before Election Day. The executive order also requires ballot drop-box locations be available between Oct. 6 and Nov. 3.

As is already the case, in-person voting sites will be available in county elections offices starting 29 days before Election Day.

With the move to statewide mail-in ballots, California hopes to avoid the problems that plagued this year’s Wisconsin presidential primary, where thousands of voters without protective gear were forced to wait for hours in long lines, while thousands more stayed home to avoid the potential health risks.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla applauded the governor’s order.

“Observing elections in other states during this pandemic has only reinforced the wisdom of this approach,” Padilla said in a statement. “Expanded vote-by-mail, coupled with ample in-person voting on and before Election Day, is the best formula for maintaining the accessibility, security, and safety of our election.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority of people recover.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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