The Time to Go After Vote-By-Mail Misinformation Is Now

Senator Stern, Secretary of State Padilla & California Clean Money Campaign Urge Governor Newsom to Sign SB 739 (Stern) Into Law

September 15, 2020

SACRAMENTO – As a record number of voters in California and across the nation prepare to cast vote-by-mail ballots in the November 3, 2020, General Election, Senator Henry Stern, Secretary of State Alex Padilla, and Trent Lange of the California Clean Money Campaign urged Governor Gavin Newsom to sign SB 739 (Stern) into law.

“In the midst of this worldwide pandemic, it is imperative that voters, especially those who are getting a vote-by-mail ballot for the first time, know their rights and are getting accurate, reliable information,” said Senator Henry Stern (D-Calabasas).  “Democracy is too fragile to allow reckless disinformation campaigns to compromise the right of anyone to cast his or her ballot.”

Under current law, it is a misdemeanor for a person to distribute any information in an attempt to deceive voters about where their polling place is located and about the qualifications to register to vote.  SB 739 (Stern) makes it a misdemeanor to intentionally mislead a voter about his or her right to apply for, receive, or return a vote-by-mail ballot.

“The spread of misinformation and disinformation are enormous threats to our elections. Voting by mail is a critical component of our plans to keep our elections accessible, secure, and safe during the COVID-19 pandemic,” explained Secretary of State, Alex Padilla. “We need to discourage and combat election disinformation that could disenfranchise citizens. Our democracy depends on it.”

According to the Secretary of State, nearly 60% of California’s voters are already registered as permanent vote-by-mail (PVBM) voters, meaning they are automatically sent a vote-by-mail ballot before each election.  Under California law, any voter can request a vote-by-mail ballot before any election, but this year, rather than wait for voters to request a ballot,  those non-PVBM voters will automatically be sent a vote-by-mail ballot as a result of AB 860 (Berman), which became law earlier this year.

“We applaud Senator Stern and the bipartisan super majorities in the Legislature that passed this crucial bill,” said Trent Lange, Executive Director of the California Clean Money Campaign.  “We hope that Governor Newsom will sign SB 739 as soon as possible to make it illegal to mislead voters about how to vote by mail.  That will always be important, but never more so than during a pandemic.”

Given the growing popularity of mail-in voting, fair information is vital to a fair election.  According to the Pew Research Center in late April, “Two-thirds of Americans believe that it is very or somewhat likely that the coronavirus outbreak will significantly disrupt people’s ability to vote in the presidential election.”

Additionally, under current law, county elections officials are required to send vote-by-mail applications to each voter not registered as a PVBM voter.  Since each registered voter will already be receiving a vote-by-mail ballot this year, SB 739 eliminates the requirement for counties to send a vote-by-mail ballot application for this election.

SB 739 is supported by California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, the California Clean Money Campaign, the California League of Conservation Voters, and the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials.

SB 739 passed the Senate and Assembly on bi-partisan 32-0 and 72-1 votes, respectively.  The Governor has until September 30 to sign, veto, or allow the bill to become law without his signature.  As an urgency measure, if SB 739 does become law, it will take effect immediately and be in place before vote-by-mail ballots are sent to California voters for the November 3, 2020, General Election.

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