With Election Day quickly approaching and no vaccine to stop the spread of COVID-19, California Assemblyman Marc Berman and state Sen. Tom Umberg have proposed a legislative package to protect both voting rights and public health at the ballot box.
Berman, who represents the northern parts of Santa Clara County and the southern edges of San Mateo County, has amended Assembly Bill 860 to require a vote-by-mail ballot to be sent to every registered voter in the state.
A number of in-person polling stations would remain open for voters who didn’t receive a ballot, lost their ballot, need further assistance or want to register to vote.
“No Californian should have to choose between protecting their health and safety and participating in our democracy, particularly when doing so can be easily avoided,” Berman said in announcing the bill. “AB 860 strikes the appropriate balance between allowing Californians to vote from the safety of their own homes, and ensuring that those who wish to vote in person still have the ability to do so.”
In conjunction with Berman’s bill in the state assembly, Umberg—who represents parts of Orange County—introduced Senate Bill 423, which would establish a minimum number of voting centers to protect the health of both voters and poll workers. Umberg is proposing a minimum ratio of one location per 10,000 voters for for four days.
“Voters will need safe and healthy in-person voting options this November,” Umberg said. “While it is critical that voters in California are afforded every opportunity to receive a mail ballot, there still must be reliably sanitary, in-person voting locations available to provide access to valuable services like Election-Day registration, language assistance with ballots, disability assistance with voting, and more.”
In a May 6 letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom, Berman and Umberg also advocated that the state “ensure that counties have enough personal protective equipment and disinfectant to ensure the safety of election personnel and voters.”
A number of advocacy groups are backing the legislation including the California League of Conservation Voters, SEIU, Black Women for Wellness and the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice.
“One thing is clear—communities across our state are excited to vote in the upcoming general election and we must take steps to ensure that a public health crisis does not impede the functioning of our democracy,” California League of Conservation Voters CEO Mary Creasman said. “No Californian should have to choose between protecting their health or voting.”
“Sending every California voter a ballot is only one part of the solution for a safe and fair election,” Bob Schoonover, president of SEIU California and SEIU Local 721, added. “Every California voter should have access to a safe place to vote, without fear of overcrowding or long lines.”