SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — All Californians who are registered to vote will be provided with mail-in ballots for the November election through an executive order signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom Friday.

The governor cited health concerns over the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and how it may not subside in time, as the impetus for the order.

“There’s a lot of concern and anxiety around this November’s election in terms of making sure that you can conduct yourself in a safe way; to make sure your health is protected and to make sure that we are reaching out to all registered voters and giving them the opportunity and the choice not to feel like they have to go into a concentrated, dense environment where their health might be at risk,” said Newsom.

Newsom said while voters are being urged to vote by mail, he also acknowledged that there will be many voters who would prefer to vote in person. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla is spearheading the effort to put together a plan to have all polling places set up for proper physical distancing with coronavirus safety guidelines in mind, said Newsom.

Padilla, who spoke by phone at the governor’s press conference Friday, said the state will be implementing strict social distancing rules for people who decide to vote at a polling place.

Padilla said the executive order for mail-in ballots is the first in the country.

“Today we become the first state in the nation to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by mailing every registered voter a ballot,” Padilla said. “We are meeting our obligation to provide an accessible, secure, and safe election this November.”

Voting rights advocates lauded the announcement but called on state officials and legislators to also expand polling place access as much as possible.

“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,” said Anthony Thigpenn, president of the voting advocacy group California Calls.

Newsom and Padilla said they plan to work with officials at the county level across the state to establish in-person voting standards for the election. Newsom could issue a subsequent executive order later this year if those standards are not agreed upon by May 30.

Voters can check and affirm their registration status by visiting voterstatus.sos.ca.gov. Voters will not be required to pay for postage as mail ballot postage is prepaid in California.

“There’s no safer, physically distancing, healthier way to  exercise your right to vote than from the safety and convenience of your own home,” Padilla said.

 

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