Did California Gov. Newsom Change All Voters’ Preference to Vote by Mail — So All In-Person Voters Will Be Turned Away?

Claim

"NEWSOM CHANGED YOUR VOTING PREFERENCE WITHOUT YOUR CONSENT. EVERY single voter in California has had their voting preference changed to 'vote by mail.' This means if you go to the polls to vote in person WITHOUT changing your preference ahead of time, you will be TURNED AWAY and CANNOT VOTE."

Rating

Not True

Reporting

On September 1 2020, a Facebook user shared the following screenshot, along with a post claiming that California’s governor, Gavin Newsom (D), had quietly changed all of California voters’ preference to vote by mail, so that anyone planning to vote in person would essentially be disenfranchised:

The following text appeared, alongside what appeared to be a screenshot of an identical or similar text:

Attention CALIFORNIA Friends and Family – NEWSOM CHANGED YOUR VOTING PREFERENCE WITHOUT YOUR CONSENT. EVERY single voter in California has had their voting preference changed to “vote by mail”. This means if you go to the polls to vote in person WITHOUT changing your preference ahead of time, you will be TURNED AWAY and CANNOT VOTE. This also means you are at the mercy of the USPS to receive and then return your ballot. To change this status you MUST go to sos.ca.gov then click the Elections icon and scroll down to click Voter Status icon. There you can check your status and check NO to mail in voting. This is different than requesting an Absentee Ballot.

According to the post, Newsom “changed” the preferences of voters registered in California without their consent, and therefore all Californians who visited polling places would, as a consequence of that change, be “turned away” at the polls and unable to vote” It included no supporting information, and it did not appear that the screenshot (which had a watermark in some variations from “CanadianAnonArmy”) included any citations, either.

Voting in California in the 2020 General Election

In September 2020, it was widely known that people in every state were likelier than ever to vote by mail due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

On June 18 2020, the San Francisco Chronicle‘s “Gov. Gavin Newsom signs bill sending mail ballot to every active California voter” reported that all voters in the state were to receive a ballot in the mail, describing several additional measures to ensure that all votes were processed and counted:

California will take the unprecedented step of mailing a ballot to every active registered voter this fall after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill [on June 18 2020] intended to protect the November [2020] election against potential disruption by the coronavirus pandemic.

AB860 will also require county officials to count any ballot that is received within 17 days of the election, as long as it’s postmarked by election day [November 3 2020]. That’s two weeks longer than under current law, which sets a cutoff of the Friday after the election.

Newsom, who signed the bill without comment, tried to enact a similar mandate through executive order [in May 2020]. His order requiring counties to send a mail ballot to every voter faces a legal challenge.

Immediately thereafter, the same reporting explained:

The changes do not remove the option to cast a ballot in person and would be in effect only for the 2020 general election.

The story also noted that Republicans were opposed to expanding mail-in voting:

Despite objections by some Republican groups that expanding mail voting was a power grab by Democrats, AB860 passed the Assembly earlier [on June 18 2020] by a bipartisan vote of 63-2.

A June 12 2020 article about Newsom’s efforts to expand mail-in voting to reduce crowding at polling places had the additional context that Newsom further endeavored to “maintain in-person voting options” for California voters. The same story went on to explain that some California Republicans had filed lawsuits to limit access to voting by mail:

In early May [2020], [Newsom] decreed that all registered voters should receive a ballot in the mail. In another order [in early June 2020], he mandated that counties still maintain in-person voting options for those who need assistance. That order gave counties the opportunity to operate a small number of vote centers as long as they allow for more early voting.

Immediately after the first order was issued, two lawsuits were filed — one by San Diego County congressional candidate Darrell Issa and the other by the National Republican Committee and the California Republican Party. Both suits argued that the governor does not have the constitutional authority to change election procedure, though they also took issue with the security of voting-by-mail.

Hanging over this legal battle is an increasingly partisan debate over absentee voting. In late May [2020], President Donald Trump falsely claimed that Newsom’s executive order would authorize non-citizens to vote. This prompted Twitter to take the unprecedented move of slapping the president’s tweet with a mildly chiding disclaimer: “Get the facts about mail-in ballots.”

As of September 3 2020, California’s Secretary of State’s “Elections” page stated:

Any registered voter in California can decide whether to vote at a polling place or vote by mail.

On August 7 2020, KCRA reported that in-person voting would be available beginning October 31 2020, and that more than 70 percent of voters had voted by mail in the 2020 primary:

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill that allows counties to open voting centers for the Nov. 3 [2020] election with COVID-19 modifications. This follows an earlier law Newsom signed requiring every active registered voter to receive a mail-in ballot.

Voting in person will be available from Oct. 31 to Election Day on Nov. 3 [2020]. Ballot drop-off sites will still be available, and mail-in ballots will still be sent to every registered voter.

“Frankly for the vast majority of Californians, they are not going to see any significant change,” Secretary of State Alex Padilla said. “More than 70% of voters voted mail-in ballots in the primary.”

Although people can still register to vote on Election Day, the deadline for online registration is Oct. 19.

‘You Can Check Your Status and Check ‘NO’ to Mail-in Voting’

PolitiFact California addressed the rumor on September 1 2020, quoting an official with the California Secretary of State’s office who said that voters “do not need to change anything with your voter registration in order to participate in-person in this election.”

That official further noted that the new law “does not alter the voting preference Californians select when they register to vote,” and PolitiFact concluded:

Social media posts claimed California voters would be “turned away” from in-person voting unless they made a change online to their voter preference by selecting “No mail-in voting.”

That is simply not the case. Voters don’t need to make any voting preference change to cast their ballot in-person.

All active registered voters will receive a mail-in ballot ahead of Election Day, as part of an effort to stay safe amid the pandemic.

But there are in-person voting options and none require Californians to make any changes to their voting preferences.

The claims in these social media posts are both inaccurate and reckless, deserving of our most severe designation.

We rate them Pants On Fire.

KNTV provided further information for those opting to use mail-in ballots in November 2020.

TL;DR

As the November 2020 U.S. election drew nearer in September 2020, disinformation about voting by mail in California began spreading unchecked on Instagram and Facebook (despite Facebook’s claims to be fighting disinformation and propaganda on all its platforms), attempting to dissuade voters from exercising their right to vote by mail. The posts claimed, completely falsely, that voters would be “turned away” due to a new law signed by Gov. Newsom. Myriad options are available to voters in California, including in-person voting, voting by mail, and early voting.

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