California About To Make Universal Mail-In Voting Permanent

[ Posted Wednesday, September 8th, 2021 – 14:26 UTC ]

As I write this, there is less than a week to go before the votes in California's gubernatorial recall election will be counted. But, just as I predicted a few weeks ago, it now seems like a sure bet that Governor Gavin Newsom is going to beat the recall pretty handily. As I wrote back then, a few odd outlier polls had caused somewhat of a frenzy in the chattering classes of the inside-the-Beltway punditocracy, who all concluded that Newsom was in trouble and a Republican could win the recall. I didn't buy it. Not for a minute.

I didn't buy into this nervousness for two big reasons. The first is that it is impossible to predict "likely voters" (what the one poll that freaked everyone out was attempting to measure) in a one-time special recall election, with nothing else on the ballot, held in an odd month rather than on the normal election schedule. Nobody knew how many people were going to actually vote, so any predictive model was little better than throwing a dart at a dartboard of numbers.

But the second reason was much more convincing, at least to me:

The 2020 election was the first statewide "mail-in ballots only" election in California. We had been moving in this direction already -- we were supposed to have a trial run of the idea in a few select counties in 2020, as we decided whether to fully adopt the system used in Oregon and elsewhere. But the pandemic forced the state to move the schedule up. So every registered voter got a ballot in the mail, automatically. They could mail it back in, they could drop it off at a voting location before Election Day, or they could show up to the polls as always, to drop off their ballot. But everyone got a ballot without even requesting one.

That is the system we'll be using in the recall election, too. My ballot showed up today. I didn't have to ask for it or fill out a form or go online or do anything -- it just appeared in my mailbox. Just like it will appear in every single other registered voter's mailbox. We even get the triumphal "I VOTED" stickers in the mail with our ballots. There is simply no reason left to vote in-person again -- at least, not for anyone who would normally have to make the time in the middle of a busy day to go vote. Instead, you can do it weeks in advance, painlessly and easily, and you even get to wear your proud sticker on Election Day. It could not get much easier, in fact.

. . .

So how can you compare an election where it is relatively difficult to vote to one where it is a matter of spending five minutes with the ballot at your own kitchen table, sticking it into a postage-free envelope, and putting it back into your mailbox for the carrier to pick up the next day? You can't. It's an entirely different kettle of fish. And what everyone is worried about -- that Democratic voters will be so complacent about Newsom's chances of winning that they just don't vote -- is likely not going to materialize. With voting made so easy, it is almost guaranteed the turnout will be much higher than it would have been under the old system. Voting is so easy and automatic that more people will vote, period. So there just isn't any valid previous election to even compare it to, when estimating turnout.

Now that early voting has been going on for a while, some actual numbers are coming in. No votes have been counted yet, but it is being reported how many registered Democrats, Republicans, and independents have returned their ballots. And they show pretty much exactly what I predicted -- a much larger turnout than the experts had predicted:

According to Political Data Inc., which tracks voter turnout in the Golden State, around 6.1 million Californians -- or about 28% of registered voters -- have sent in their recall election ballots as of Tuesday afternoon.

Surprisingly, that's not too far behind turnout during the historic 2020 general election, which was largely conducted by mail, and which brought out more voters than ever before. In 2020, 6.4 million people, or 29%, had voted with about 10 days left before the election, said company Vice President Paul Mitchell, in a weekend email update.

The breakdown by party is even better news for Newsom, since 53 percent of the returned ballots are from Democratic voters, while only 24 percent are from Republicans. In other words, all the doomsaying about how apathetic Democratic voters were (and how enthusiastic Republican voters were) has proven not to be the case.

There are still no guarantees, of course. Perhaps all the Republican voters have been spooked by Donald Trump badmouthing mail-in ballots, and they'll all turn out in force on Election Day (next Tuesday). But it's pretty doubtful they'll be able to catch up, even then.

The experts are now predicting a turnout of better than 50 percent of the electorate. That is an astounding number for any non-presidential election. Normally only about a quarter of the voters would cast ballots in an off-year election, but it turns out making it extremely easy for people to vote means more of them vote. Pretty obvious, really -- and this was exactly what I based my earlier prediction upon. It's only now that the so-called "experts" are catching up:

"You cannot overstate how important the mail-in ballot will be in this election," said David Townsend, a Sacramento-based Democratic political consultant. Because Democrats outnumber Republicans by two to one in California, the electoral math is with Mr. Newsom -- but only if his voters cast their ballots. Voting by mail gives even indifferent voters a nudge and an opportunity to cast a ballot without much effort.

"Before this, you had to convince a voter to get in a car, drive to a location with no real signage but a flag and go vote on something they might care about or might not," Mr. Townsend noted. "Now you get a ballot in the mail, make an X by a box, sign it and drop it back in the mailbox. You don't even have to look for a stamp."

The signs were really already there, for anyone who cared to see them. Universal mail-in voting is already statewide law in five other states (Colorado, Hawai'i, Oregon, Utah, and Washington). Their voting rates far outpace states without universal mail-in voting. The response rate in 2020 was nothing short of astounding in California, even during a pandemic. Over 80 percent of registered California voters cast a ballot in 2020 -- the first time that rate has been so high since President Harry Truman was in office.

The really good news is that while Gavin Newsom is almost certain to beat the recall when all the votes are counted, he will also be able to thank the voters directly in a very tangible way. The provision for universal mail-in voting was a temporary change enacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and then extended to cover elections this year. But this extension only goes to the end of this calendar year. So the legislature has now passed a permanent change to election law and has placed the bill on the governor's desk.

So far Newsom hasn't indicated whether he'll sign it or not (he prefers to keep everyone in suspense about all legislation on his desk). But it's a pretty safe bet he will. After all, he'll have the universal mail-in voting system to thank for saving his political career. So at some point in the next few days, California will likely become the sixth state to move to universal mail-in voting. Every registered voter will get a ballot in the mail, in every election -- without having to request one in advance. They can mail it back in, stick it in a drop box, or even go vote normally on Election Day (by physically going to the polling places). It's all the voter's choice -- it just gives the voters more and easier choices, that's all. Which winds up making an enormous difference in turnout.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


21 Comments on “California About To Make Universal Mail-In Voting Permanent”

  1. [1] 
    andygaus wrote:

    So apparently Republicans are right, in their way, to regard mail-in voting as a looming and glowering threat that could lead to more Democratic votes being counted.

  2. [2] 
    SF Bear wrote:

    It seems to me that mail in voting is at least as secure if not more so than in person voting. Does anyone understand the GOP arguments that it is not secure? What is their reasoning?

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Absolutely, positively, unequivocally!!!

  4. [4] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    So this kind of thing seems to appeal to blue states more than red, by your account. Meanwhile, the red states as we read constantly are working hard to limit access to voting.

    This may increase the severity of the constitutional crisis that Republicans seem to be working towards in the 2024 election: nullifying blue votes in red states, if necessary by having the legislatures declare blue votes fraudulent en masse and sending red electoral votes to Congress, despite red losses at the actual polls.

    To this depressing tactic, now we can add ever-larger popular vote totals in the blue states for the blue candidate, thanks to this kind of increased ease of voting by mail.

    So, imagine in 2024 the Republican candidate winning by a slim electoral vote margin, thanks to restricted or hijacked voting in the disproportionately powerful red state bloc. Imagine also the Democratic candidate winning the national popular vote not by, say, 3 million as Clinton did when losing in 2016 -- but by, say, 20 or 25 million votes thanks to overwhelming voter turnout in the blue states with their easy-to-do mail-in ballots.

    I'm not sure this will play out exactly like this, but that's the direction these two opposite trends are taking the country and its democracy. The question is, when will the disenfranchised electoral majority take more direct action to reform the federal election system, when they are deprived of the most logical path to doing so: winning national elections.

  5. [5] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    ...a few odd outlier polls had caused somewhat of a frenzy in the chattering classes of the inside-the-Beltway punditocracy, who all concluded that Newsom was in trouble and a Republican could win the recall...

    And this is the tradeoff we get with a "free" press. The press has to attract eyeballs to support itself, and nothing breeds interest like uncertainty.

    And blood. Normally politics don't get bloody, per se, but then January 6th happened.

  6. [6] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    The question is, when will the disenfranchised electoral majority take more direct action to reform the federal election system, when they are deprived of the most logical path to doing so: winning national elections.

    I guess that depends on DINOs Manchin and Sinema, doesn't it.

  7. [7] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    FPC [4] [5]

    #4 Mtn Caddy -- This [is] EXACTLY how I and many others here feel. Message to Don --- Either engage with us in discussing solutions to the problem of money in politics or go home. Your broken record screeds just get in the way of conversations of real value.


    So red card his sorry ass already, CW!

  8. [8] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    the whole 'DINO' and 'RINO' thing is so twelve years ago. i prefer to call senator manchin a paleo-democrat. trouble is, without them there's be no democratic majority and mitch would be calling the shots.

  9. [9] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    as i was saying before i was so rudely interrupted - DINOS, RINOS, paleo-dems, paleo-cons, neocons, neolibs, classic liberals and even trumpistas all like pie.

  10. [10] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    if we promise to only support candidates who favor pie, then follow through by not voting unless they show their support for pie, they'll be forced to give us some.

  11. [11] 
    TheStig wrote:


    I don’t think established pundits worry much about audience shifts from a single column. What they DO worry about is about is having something to publish at the next deadline. A shift in polling results, however unreliable will do on an otherwise slow day. The poll shift was “newsy” if not exactly “newsworthy.” To his credit, CW pointed this out last Tuesday…among other tihings.

  12. [12] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:


    Until citizens take direct action by demanding small donor candidates and enforcing that demand with their votes it will remain an exercise in futility as this is how democracy is designed to work.

    If only there was a website or organization to tell us who was a small donor candidate...I guess we will never know.

    The next question is, can anyone here really engage is a discussion or will there just be more "no it isn't because you say it isn't" or can anyone really make an argument against that being how democracy is designed to work?

    Have you evolved enough to handle discussion? Past experience tells us "discussion" with you is we heap massive praise on your idea and throw you on our shoulders and carry you in to the sunset as hero and anything short of that is a dodge.

    Put up or expect that your bullshit will be exposed.

    Ooh, shaking in my boots! Talk about the weakest of weak sauce...

    The fact that commenters here want me to be red carded or just go away is the smoking gun that exposes that you have no rational argument. If you did you would make it instead of using dodges and begging CW to save you from being exposed as a bullshitter by banning me.

    Actually, I think it was the incessant spam...

  13. [13] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:


    For example, what part of your comment addresses whether or not using votes to influence candidates is not how democracy is designed to work?

    Because we have all addressed this many times in the past and all have been accused of dodging when we did not agree with you.

    Pulling out the old dodge of wanting a list of small donor candidates to choose from without first making a demand for small donor candidates does not address how democracy is designed to work.

    But it was how your website was designed to work. You do remember you have a website, right? Just think if you had got off your lazy ass and learned html, a bit of css and a touch JavaScript over the last seven or so years instead of spamming comment sections you could have built something these political commentators might actually want to write about instead of consistently ignoring you. By the way, do have the full list? We know CW, Dore and Nader. Who else is giving you the old cold shoulder? Heh...

    You are just making up the "past experience" as that has never happened. The only dodges I have pointed out have been dodges.

    Moving on to straight out lying, eh?

    You are not "shaking in your boots" because you have not actually engaged in discussion which is what exposes your weakness and incessant spamming/trolling that you try to project on to me.

    I've never received a yellow card...

  14. [14] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    but the important thing is that it can work for pie.

  15. [15] 
    goode trickle wrote:

    On todays The Brilliance of Don Qui.

    Our intrepid master of democracy and election laws and processes will explain how his "entity" that is in no way shape or form registered as a voter or election advocacy group is going to force invalid write in votes to be counted.

    So... Don Qui how about enlightening all of us with how exactly you plan to utilize FOIA's? you know with real detail, like who you are going to FOIA, how are you going to pay for the FOIA, who is going to be doing all of this work, you know... details.

  16. [16] 
    goode trickle wrote:


    There you go again pushing your extremist pie agenda.

    The more you push your extreme pie agenda the more you alienate those of us who are more centrist.

    If you really wanted reform that is for all of us you would be pushing <a href="" this... it is as American as apple pie.

    The beauty of this agenda is that it can be adjusted to satisfy the leanings of both the the center cake and center pie crowds that make up the majority of our countries population.

    Isn't it time to push a agenda that unites vs the old school pie/cake based divisive politics?

  17. [17] 
    goode trickle wrote:

    Dang it forgot to close an attribute.

  18. [18] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:


    You label anything that disagrees with you as a "dodge". No one buys it. It has become the code word for you unable to handle a rational response.

    Then the website dodge.

    Perfect example...

    I never should have received a yellow card. That was CW's lowest moment. That you are not capable of recognizing that or just don't care to admit it just shows how low you are.

    Yes, we get it, you are seriously butt hurt over it. That yellow card was quite justified though...


    It's hilarious that this is your end of argument cop out. Oh noes, I've been called a coward. How will I ever live with myself? Quite easily it turns out...

  19. [19] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    you're just copying my brilliant idea by pretending that big cake can be part of the process of pie-based reform. cake has had its day, and has failed time after time to improve the voting process. only by sticking to pie (and no lesser pastries) right now can we bring in true voter participation by those who have never voted before and seem likely not to vote in the future. you might call this a pie purity test but it's really just simple baking.

    don't buy the cake lie, vote for pie.


  20. [20] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:


    I think you should probably look up both "dodge" and "coward" in a dictionary. You seem to be a bit fuzzy on the definitions...

  21. [21] 
    Kick wrote:

    Don Harris

    The yellow card was not justified.

    Your failed attempt at political activism is illegal.

    It would have been justified for Kick and Listen.

    Bashi is correct; you are obviously and majorly butthurt. You're a butthurt troll with a shitty idea that you refuse to stop spamming on this forum.

    Your definition of "Big Money" is actually chump change. Individuals are already limited by statute in the amount of money they can contribute to a political candidate, and individuals through Political Action Committees are not limited at all. Your bullshit would do absolutely nothing to limit the amount an individual can contribute to a candidate through a PAC and would thereby make the PACs stronger and give them a louder voice while individual voters in your scenario would be de facto self-disarming what little power they have by refusing to cast a valid vote that isn't counted in the vast majority of states. Those are the simple facts.

    Now eff off... but not before shoving your repetitive bullshit up your backside... but not before removing your tiny head.

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