California, like several other states, made the decision during the COVID-19 pandemic to automatically mail election ballots to every registered voter.
On Monday, the state announced that it would make the move permanent ― embracing the popular, accessible and flexible method of voting when an increasing number of Republican-led states are doing the opposite.
But California is hardly the first state to make voting by mail more accessible. Though all states offer some form of voting by mail, nine states and Washington, D.C., now mandate that every voter be mailed a ballot ahead of an election by default. Last year was the first time that California, Vermont and the nation’s capital began the practice.
Request-required mail-in ballot systems, traditionally known as absentee voting systems, mean eligible voters must initiate the process of receiving and casting mail-in ballots. Dozens of states allow voters to mail in their ballots without specifying why they are doing so, but several states ― mostly in the South ― still require voters to provide an “excuse” for mailing in their ballots, forcing more people to vote in person at polling places.
On the other hand, automatic mail-in ballot systems, sometimes called all-mail voting systems, require that elections officials automatically send mail-in ballots to all eligible voters ― who can then return their ballots by mail or via designated drop boxes. This type of system boosts voter turnout by expanding voting accessibility, especially among Black and brown people, disabled people, rural residents, older people and members of the military.
Here is the current list of states that have automatic mail-in ballot systems:
New Jersey (temporary)
Washington state (permanent)
Washington, D.C. (temporary)
Earlier this month, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed a sweeping law restricting voting rights in his state, mainly by curtailing more convenient voting options. The Republican-led legislation bans 24-hour and drive-through voting, creates harsher voter ID requirements for mail-in voting and stops elections officials from sending voters unsolicited mail-in ballot applications.
Republicans are pushing similar efforts in legislatures across the country through hundreds of state-level bills to restrict voting, emboldened by states like Georgia, Arkansas and Arizona that have enacted such laws.
These GOP-led attempts at voter suppression followed record turnout during the 2020 election that allowed now-President Joe Biden to defeat Republican incumbent Donald Trump. This turnout was boosted by temporary expansions in mail-in ballot access due to the coronavirus pandemic, leading many Democrats to realize that widely available mail-in voting helps secure voting rights.
“The bill will permanently expand access and increase participation in our elections by making voting more convenient and meeting people where they are,” California Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber said in a statement on Monday. “Vote-by-mail has significantly increased participation of eligible voters.”
“Voters like having options for returning their ballot whether by mail, at a secure drop box, a voting center or at a traditional polling station,” she continued. “And the more people who participate in elections, the stronger our democracy and the more we have assurance that elections reflect the will of the people of California.”
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