California Capitol Watch: Protecting Voting Rights in California – Vote by Mail Ballots

As documented by the Brennan Center for Justice, as of mid-February, 2021, state lawmakers across the nation have carried, pre-filed, or introduced at least 253 bills with provisions that restrict voter access in 43 states. The Brennan Center notes that a quarter of voting and election bills seek to limit vote by mail (VBM) procedures. These VBM bills would limit who can vote by mail (e.g., by limiting “no excuse” mail voting, requiring that mail-in ballots be notarized, eliminating mail-in ballot drop boxes) and/or would make it harder to obtain ballots (e.g., by eliminating the permanent early voter list).

California, on the other hand, is one of some 37 states that have introduced expansive bills focusing on mail voting, early voting, voter registration, and voting rights restoration. One such bill is SB 503 authored by Senator Josh Becker.

What problem/issue would the bill address?

California voters have increasingly utilized VBM ballots over the last decade. In late-September 2020, the Secretary of State (SOS) adopted emergency regulations pertaining to signature verification, ballots processing, and ballot counting. The regulations are effective from September 28, 2020, through July 28, 2021, unless extended. These regulations are designed to provide clear and uniform guidance to counties relating to verifying signatures on elections-related petitions, VBM identification envelopes, provisional ballot envelopes, ballot processing, and ballot counting.

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