The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to send vote-by-mail ballots to every voter registered for the November general election, citing concerns about coronavirus-related social distancing.
Supervisors Janice Hahn and Sheila Kuehl proposed the change to election protocols that typically send vote-by-mail ballots on request.
"It is hard to imagine that, amid the coronavirus crisis, we have a major election coming up this November," Hahn said. "No one should have to choose between their health and their right to vote. We don't know what challenges we will be facing in this pandemic this fall, but by sending every voter a mail-in-ballot we can ensure that everyone can cast their ballot safely, no matter what the future holds."
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Current stay-at-home orders are set to expire May 15, but even if some restrictions are lifted at that time, public health officials expect some form of social distancing will be required longer term in order to prevent a new surge of COVID-19 cases.
As a result, in-person voting locations could be hard-pressed to recruit election workers or accommodate the need for social distancing while meeting voter demand.
"Nothing, including all the challenges related to COVID-19, should be allowed to prevent voters from casting their ballots in November,'' Kuehl said.
The board also directed Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan to take necessary measures to offer in-person voting options that comply with public health orders and ensure the safety of voters and volunteers.
California Elections Code dictates that Los Angeles County send vote-by-mail ballots to all registered voters by 2024, so the board's move simply accelerates that process.
Logan has previously warned that such a move will be expensive. No price tag was included in the motion, which directs the county CEO to work with Logan to identify funding. The board also agreed to send letters to federal and state legislative advocates seeking money for the effort.
Federal dollars may be hard to come by at a time when the White House is warning against vote-by-mail balloting, with President Trump calling it "a terrible, terrible thing'' and citing the potential for fraud. Trump himself voted by mail in Florida's recent presidential primary.
A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 58% of voters across the country favor changing election laws permanently to allow voting by mail. And roughly one-quarter of those opposed to a permanent change said mail-in voting should be allowed this November.
Logan told the board that earlier elections would also follow this plan to send every registered voter a vote-by-mail ballot.