The State Of California: Pres. Trump's Vote-By-Mail Pushback

Doug Sovern
May 26, 2020 - 8:32 pm

    California plans to mail every registered voter a ballot for the November election to make sure they can vote safely during the coronavirus pandemic, but that plan is under attack in the federal courts and on Twitter, where President Trump claims it will lead to widespread fraud.

    There are at least two lawsuits filed now against Governor Gavin Newsom for using his emergency executive authority to ask the Secretary of State to send a ballot—not just to Californians who request one or who live in a county where all voting is by mail—but to every registered voter in the state to give them a safe option in November beyond going to the polls. 

    President Trump is publicly railing against the idea, insisting that people will steal the ballots from mailboxes, force people to sign them and turn in fraudulent votes that will taint the election. Newsom dismissed that contention as ridiculous on Tuesday.

    “California’s been doing it for decades, many other states across this country have been using absentee ballots,” he said. “Service men and women serving overseas using absentee ballots in a secure, safe and honorable manner.”

    In fact, Twitter has now added fact-check links to the President’s tweets about this, something it’s never done before. 

    For more on the plan, and the legal and political brouhaha surrounding it, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla—who’s in charge of elections in the state—joined KCBS Radio’s “The State of California.”

    How do you respond to the claims that mailing every voter a ballot is going to open a Pandora’s Box of election fraud?

    The President’s baseless attacks on the integrity of vote-by-mail is simply not true. Am I surprised by these lawsuits? No. Trump and the Republican Party announced weeks ago that they had a $28 million fund to try to challenge election laws and the efforts by many states to expand voting opportunities in court. So it’s California’s turn now, I guess, but we stand by vote-by-mail as a proven practice, not just by California, but in red and blue states, and purple states for that matter. It’s safe, secure and probably the best option for voters during the health pandemic.

    We do hear occasional reports of boxes of ballots dumped or other irregularities, is there any evidence at all to support the President’s claims of widespread fraud?

    We take voter fraud, the potential of voter fraud and the allegations of voter fraud very, very seriously, but the evidence is clear: after audits, after investigations and tremendous research, voter fraud in America and in California—and voter fraud as it pertains to vote-by-mail—is exceedingly rare. So, there is no evidence to support the President’s claims or lies. 

    We can go back four years, to even before his election in 2016. I challenged Team Trump back in 2016 to provide any evidence that they had, and to this date [they have> nothing. It’s simply a political ploy to try to undermine confidence in elections and vote-by-mail specifically. 

    We’re going to stay focused on providing a November election that’s accessible, secure and safe for everybody.

    California, of course, is already a big vote-by-mail state. About 70% of all Californians already do it. Do you have a sense of how many more will, if every registered voter gets a ballot. And how do you go about planning for how many polling places you’ll need?

    The good news is, we’re not starting from scratch in California. Voting by mail has been popular for many years and increasingly popular every election. In fact, in the March primary, more than 70% of the ballots cast were by mail. So, going from about 70% to 100% may sound like an easy task, but in California, we’re talking about the addition of 5 million more voters voting by mail.

    We know we can do it, it’s just a county-by-county planning exercise to print more ballots, envelopes and possibly purchase additional equipment to sort ballots, process ballots and maybe stacking those sorts of things. 

    But to all the things we know how to do, it’s a matter of scaling up the capacity to 100%. It’s not a vote-by-mail only election that we’re calling for. To your point, we still must maintain as many safe, in-person opportunities to vote both on and before election day for voters who need assistance or to participate in same-day registration. But from a safety standpoint, the bottom line is simple: the more voters who vote early by mail or in person means shorter lines, smaller crowds and a healthier space on election day.

    So the main argument in these lawsuits seems to be that only the legislature, not the governor has the authority to conduct elections. Couldn’t the legislature just pass a bill authorizing that everybody gets a ballot in the mail and that would solve the legal issue?

    In fact, legislations have already been introduced to add these directives to state statute already, but the legislature process isn’t as quick and as nimble, and the practical reality—not just for my office, but for each and every county election’s office in California and registrars of voters in California—is a need, a direction now to begin whether it’s a procurement process, a modifying budgeting planning approvals from boards of supervisors funding by their counties, et cetera. You can’t wait until October, September or even August to begin that process. That needs to happen now, that’s the executive order initiated and it’s being followed up by legislation.

    I want to ask you about the contingency planning going on right now, it’s supposed to be real tough gearing up for this coming election, still months and months away, because we just don’t know where we’re going to be on this curve of the pandemic, so I imagine the scenarios vary quite a bit.

    That’s exactly why we’re doing what we’re doing. We don’t know what the scenario is going to become November 3rd. But we do know this: One, from Dr. Fauci on down, public health experts at the federal, state and local level have all said either we will not have flattened the curve by the fall; or two, even if we have, there’s a good chance of a second or multiple waves of cases, fatalities, et cetera.

    So, if I had to decide today, do we operate under the assumption that we’re in the clear and everything is just fine come November? Or that there’s still going to be some risk of COVID-19, we have to assume that there’s going to be risk and plan accordingly, which is exactly what we’re doing.