Judge to Newsom on vote-by-mail strategy: Restrain yourself

By Ben Christopher,
June 12, 2020


If Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to make the November 2020 election a socially-distanced affair, he may need the Legislature’s help after all.

This morning, a California district court judge in Sutter County put a hold on an executive order inked by the governor last week that specified how county registrars should conduct the coming presidential election. The governor’s goal: make sure that all registered voters receive a ballot in the mail to keep as many people as possible away from the polls — and each other.

In response to a challenge brought by Republican Assemblymen James Gallagher of Yuba City and Kevin Kiley of Bieber of Rocklin, Judge Perry Parker agreed that Newsom’s directive may be an “impermissible use of legislative powers in violation of the California Constitution.” 

The temporary hold on the gubernatorial order will last until the case can go to trial.

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Though the election isn’t for another five months, county election administrators are already scrambling to secure polling places, round up volunteers and acquire whatever protective equipment, cleaning products and technological work-arounds might be required to hold an election amid a pandemic.

“They’re on a super-short timeline,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. “That’s one of the reasons why the Legislature is moving quickly to get this adopted and enacted.”

Today’s court ruling cranks up that pressure.

Recent primary contests in Wisconsin and Georgia saw voters crowding into polling stations and waiting in long lines, to the dismay of public health experts and voting rights advocates alike. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, 71 people who voted in person or volunteered to work the polls during the state’s April 7 election subsequently contracted COVID-19.

With that cautionary tale in mind, Newsom has issued two executive orders to reshape the coming election. In early May, he decreed that all registered voters should receive a ballot in the mail. In another order last week, he mandated that counties still maintain in-person voting options for those who need assistance. That order gave counties the opportunity to operate a small number of vote centers as long as they allow for more early voting.

Immediately after the first order was issued, two lawsuits were filed — one by San Diego County congressional candidate Darrell Issa and the other by the National Republican Committee and the California Republican Party. Both suits argued that the governor does not have the constitutional authority to change election procedure, though they also took issue with the security of voting-by-mail. (Full Story)