Grassroots and Advocacy Organizations Respond to Executive Order by Governor Newsom Implementing General Election Protections

Press Release
May 8, 2020

CONTACT: Jennifer Molina | [email protected] | 213.537.6324

Power California - Kay Cuajunco | [email protected]

California Calls Email - James Woodson | [email protected]

California Environmental Justice Alliance - Mabel Tsang | [email protected]

NARAL Pro-Choice California - Xakota Espinoza | [email protected]

Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights - Jorge-Mario Cabrera | [email protected]

Executive Order Comes After Efforts by Advocacy Groups to Prioritize Voter Access and the Safety of Voters Amidst Pandemic

SACRAMENTO – Today, a coalition of advocacy, labor, immigration, women’s health, youth and environmental organizations committed to protecting access to voting and people’s right to vote safely, responded to an executive order by Governor Gavin Newsom. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Executive Order addresses critical changes in order to maintain the safety of voters in the November 2020 General Election.

“The Governor’s Executive Order is the first step in ensuring vulnerable communities are protected from disenfranchisement. Life as we know it has changed for millions of Californians. This has led to unprecedented health and economic insecurity,” said Mary Creasman CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters. “Now, more than ever, it is critical that all voices are heard as a part of our electoral process. We fail if we don’t double down on expanding voter access to ensure that concerns over public health are not an impediment for the exercise of the right to vote. This Executive Order acknowledges the critical need for in-person voting opportunities, but the fight to protect access to voting for those who are most often disenfranchised is not over.”

"The 700,000 members of SEIU in California strongly agree with Governor Newsom that Elections and the right to vote are foundational to our democracy,’ and that ‘No Californian should be forced to risk their health in order to exercise their right to vote. For these reasons, we applaud Governor Newsom’s action to require every registered voter to receive a ballot by mail. At the same time, we call for the state to swiftly provide strong, clear direction requiring that counties make in-person voting safe and accessible to every voter who needs it. The voters most likely to experience challenges with mail-in balloting are the very same Californians most at risk from coronavirus. These include aging voters, first-time voters, Californians requesting a ballot in their native language, and renters who have recently moved -- as well as people with disabilities. Without an adequate number of in-person polling places and a time period allowing voters the opportunity to space themselves and avoid long lines, the very people most negatively impacted by this pandemic will also be the those who will be negatively impacted from their participation in our democracy,” said Bob Schoonover, President of SEIU California and SEIU Local 721.

“This crisis makes us ask more deeply who gets represented and who gets to participate. The time is now to envision a more responsive government and expanded democracy that represents all of us,” said Luis Sanchez, Executive Director of Power California. “This November, whether you are a first-time voter, do not have an address to receive a ballot, need any kind of in-person language or physical assistance, need to register to vote on the same day or need a replacement ballot — your vote should count! Governor Newsom’s announcement to implement vote-by-mail with no other options will disenfranchise young people who are more likely to change their addresses especially during this moment of economic distress. We need to protect our democratic process while we protect each other and ensure the voices of young people and the most disenfranchised are heard.”

“California Calls thanks Governor Newsom for taking this important first step during this public health crisis to ensure our democracy works for all of us by providing VBM for every voter and calling for in-person voting requirements. While expanding vote-by-mail to every California voter is important, ensuring that there are robust, in-person voting options is just as, if not more, important to ensuring that historically underrepresented voters have access to the ballot box. It is imperative that the Legislature work closely with counties and community-based organizations to ensure they have the resources to execute a robust public education campaign that reaches every eligible California voter. We call on the legislature to go beyond the Executive Order and set firm in-person requirements to ensure all voters have safe and simple access to cast their ballots in November,” said Anthony Thigpenn, President of California Calls.

“Governor Newsom's executive order to send every registered voter a mail-in ballot will be a pathway for millions of Californians to cast a vote this November. However, California's special elections to be held next Tuesday, May 12th have already demonstrated unequal access for voters. Voters in rural and unincorporated communities, where mail arrives only by PO box, have been discouraged from leaving their homes to retrieve their ballots. Currently voters in Riverside County only have 1 ballot drop-off location, whereas their neighbors in Los Angeles County will have 22 dropboxes and 9 vote centers open for 10 days before elections,” said Mabel Tsang, Civic Engagement Manager of California Environmental Justice Alliance. “In November, the legislature must work closely with counties and community based organizations to ensure safe, accessible and adequate in-person voting opportunities to prioritize voters who historically are disenfranchised -- by language, physical ability, age, race, income level, digital and information divide, geography, and housing security -- so we do not repeat mistakes of the past.”

“California has led the fight across the country for inclusive democracy up to this moment. Governor Newsom’s executive action continues that trend by making us the first state to ensure every voter receives a ballot in the mail. We ask him now to ensure ALL communities eligible to vote are informed on how to cast it from home or have access to vote safely in-person if need be. As the Governor of a state with a majority of people of color, Governor Newsom must enfranchise our most marginalized communities and show what progressive democracy means during this crisis,” said Tim Molina, Sr. Political Strategist for the California Donor Table.

“The connection between reproductive freedom and protecting our right to vote is clear: without truly accessible elections, we can’t elect leaders who share our values and can be counted on to safeguard each person’s freedom to make our own decisions about our families and futures,” said Shannon Hovis, Director of NARAL Pro-Choice California.Eighty-four percent of Californians support access to legal abortion and 80% of voters surveyed in California say reproductive rights are important to how they vote. We applaud Governor Newsom for recognizing that vote-by-mail, while essential, is not a substitute for in-person voting options, and taking this first step to ensure we have a democracy that allows participation for every body.”

“The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA) applauds actions that will lead to every California voter receiving a vote-by-mail ballot. Diversifying how communities of color, who are often excluded, access the voting process must be priority. Limited access or lack of robust and safe in-person voting options would be a disservice to our state’s work towards ensuring voting is safe and accessible for all voters,” said Angelica Salas, CHIRLA Executive Director.

“IE United thanks Governor Newsom for this first step towards protecting voter access for the November Election,” said Michael Gomez Daly, Executive Director of Inland Empire United. “COVID-19 has taken a toll on our communities and local economies. We need to make sure it does not have the same effect on our democracy. We have seen what a vote-by-mail only election would look like in the May special election - dismal turnout and disenfranchisement of voters, particularly highly mobile voters of color. We urge the Legislature to expand on the Executive Order released by Governor Newsom and ensure voters have options in how they participate in our elections. This means setting a firm standard for in-person voting locations while ensuring workers and voters are safe and expanding ballot drop off locations across the Inland Empire. We hope that local county officials will go beyond the Legislature’s requirements in November, rather than viewing them as a ceiling.”

“While it’s critical for Californians to have the option to vote by mail, we need to do more to keep voters safe from the coronavirus. Many people rely on in-person voting to access a ballot they can vote safely, securely, and privately, including people with limited English proficiency, people with disabilities, people without secure housing, and people without reliable access to the mail. The state must make it possible for these voters to participate in the election without risking their health. That means a sufficient number of in-person voting locations set up to protect voters and poll workers from Covid-19.” said, Raúl Macías, Counsel, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

The Executive Order:

  • Requires county elections officials to mail every voter a vote-by-mail ballot for the November 3, 2020 General Election.
  • States the intent to continue to work with the Legislature and Secretary of State to determine how requirements for in-person voting will be implemented, guided by California’s commitment to make elections accessible.
  • Sets a deadline for a final decision on requirements for in-person voting by May 30th.
  • Prior to Governor Newsom’s Executive Order, coalition groups submitted over a dozen letters with recommendations to Secretary of State Padilla and the Governor, calling for enhancements to the November General Election - such as the widespread use mail-in ballots, expanded public education and outreach, and the increase, not reduction of in-person voting locations. With the pandemic disproportionately affecting communities of color, groups called for quick implementation of voter protections to give time for officials to address barriers that may arise in the process. Black, Indigenous and communities of color, low-income voters, voters with disabilities, young voters, and housing insecure voters have all been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and are most at risk of disenfranchisement.

    The coalition has also worked in advocating the state Legislature. These efforts led to the Chair of the Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments, and the Chair of the Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting, to announce legislation to protect public health and voting rights amid concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic before the 2020 General Election.

    In calling for the November election to be safe, fair, and inclusive of all voters the following groups joined forces: Black Women for Wellness, Brennan Center for Justice, California Calls, California Donor Table, California Environmental Justice Alliance, California Labor Federation, California League of Conservation Voters, Center for Community Action, Environmental Justice, CHIRLA, Consumer Attorneys of California, Inland Empire United, NARAL Pro-Choice California, Power California and SEIU.

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