The State Of California: Voting By Mail

KCBS Radio Afternoon News
July 31, 2020 - 6:50 pm

    President Trump faced bipartisan push-back this week, following his tweet suggesting the November election be delayed. White House officials remained critical about the prospect of vote by mail raising the possibility of voter fraud. 

    Sonoma State Political Science Professor David McCuan filled in for Doug Sovern. 

    David, do you expect the battle over vote by mail to play out state by state leading up to November? 

    We expect that the battle over vote by mail will play out not only state by state, but locality by locality. If you think about it, the act of voting involves federal constitutional principles. It involves state level conduct and local level execution. That can differ or have some discrepancies as you call voter rolls, as you kick people off, as they register. Differences between absentee versus all mail voting, versus early voting. All of this will come into play in what is looking like one of the most consequential elections of our lifetime, and our guest will enlighten us in terms of what's happening here in California, in this regard, for November. 

    To discuss further, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla joined KCBS Radio’s “The State of California.” 

    What progress has California made on moving to vote by mail? 

    Great, thank you for having me. Good afternoon, I pray everybody is staying safe and healthy with COVID-19 and everything else we’re grappling with right now. Look, vote by mail is nothing new in the state of California. If we really want to go to the genesis of voting by mail, we'd have to go all the way back to the Civil War, where California officials made accommodations for folks going off to serve, on the side of the union, to be able to still cast their ballot in upcoming elections. But, I think most importantly here, for a couple of decades now we’ve had true, no excuse, vote by mail in California, which has only grown in popularity. Not just the majority of ballots coming in by mail, but in our most recent election, the March primary, more than 70% of our voters received a vote by mail ballot and more than 70% of the ballots cast were mail in ballots. So, in preparation for the November general election, with lingering risk of COVID-19, every registered voter in California will receive a mail in ballot prior to the general election. Counties are working feverishly to make sure we ramp up that capacity, whether it’s equipment, or staffing and all-important voter education.  

    Secretary of State Padilla, thank you for joining us today. If you could kind of expand a bit on what steps your office is taking to ensure the election process will be secure in California this November, especially in some of the larger counties in California.  

    Okay look, there are three important principles for how we get ready for every election. Number one, we want to make sure registration and the ballot itself if acceptable. Second, we want to make sure our systems are secure. For the last 4 years, we’ve heard a lot about potential cyber threats and foreign interference in our election. And now, on top of all that, we want to make sure the voting experience is safe. And frankly, there's no safer and more convenient way to vote than to do it from the safety and comfort of your home, so vote by mail will represent the lion’s share of votes cast. Vote by mail has proven to be not just successful and convenient, but secure, for a long time now. And not just in California, for many states across the country, red states, blue states, etc.  

    Among the safeguards people should be aware of, because it gives us peace of mind, is what we call signature verification. When you return your vote by mail ballot you have to sign the back of the envelope as a voter. County officials check that signature against the signature on file as part of your voter registration, as one of the measures to ensure the integrity of the vote and that the ballot is indeed coming back from that registered voter. But, were also adding transparency to the vote by mail process. Every voter in California will be able to subscribe to Where’s My Ballot, a very technical name here for a ballot tracking system that is available statewide for November. You can sign up to receive email messages, text messages, or automated call alerts on the status of your ballot as it’s making its way through the postal delivery process, both coming and going. Imagine that, the peace of mind that comes with getting a notification confirming that your ballot was received and counted. Great for transparency, great for accountability and great for peace of mind.  

    Were you working on this pre-pandemic?  

    You know, it so happens that a lot of the policies that we’ve been championing for several years now in California to increase access to the ballot, make even more sense during this pandemic. So, the ability to register to vote online, or update your registration online, verify your registration status, which we’re recommending every registered voter to do in preparation – you can do that online. Voting by mail, as I mentioned. More than half the voters in this state now live in what we call a Voters Choice Act county – so in the Bay Area, it’s Santa Clara County, Napa County, San Mateo -- where voters can not wait until election day to go vote, but they can go vote early at any location in the county convenient to them. So, expanding early voting is going to be key this November, because the more people we can encourage to vote early, by mail or safely in person, will mean shorter lines, smaller crowds and a healthier experience on election day.  

    Mr. Padilla, allow me to shift gears completely here. Presumptive democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is looking at two California law makers as potential running mates: Congresswoman Karen Bass and Senator Kamala Harris. Tell us, quickly, if you would, what would happen if either of those end up moving from their office to a VP slot. 

    Well, I know there's a lot of people in California excited about the possibility of a Californian running mate with (former) Vice President Biden. Would it be good for California? Absolutely, to be that close to the Oval Office and to carry the interest and policy leadership of California. But, just selecting a running mate is just the first step. It’s meaningless unless that ticket is victorious and successful in November. So, we have 95 days to get ready to conduct an election. And the voters will, at least in California, have ample opportunity to make their voice heard. We will not be like other states and force voters into choosing between exercising their right to vote and protecting their health and that of their loved ones.  

    That being said, I know and like both Congressmember Bass and Senator Harris. Huge fan of Senator Harris. I think she’d be the best selection as a running mate, but Joe Biden knows what he's doing. So, we’ll await the official news eagerly and take it from there.