California could become the fourth state to mail all registered voters a ballot ahead of Election Day if Secretary of State Alex Padilla's wishes are granted.
On Wednesday, Padilla and a handful of Democratic California lawmakers announced a state Senate bill that would create a system in which the government mails ballots to all voters and allows them to mail them back or drop them off at an early voting center in the 10 days before the election. Voters would be allowed to return their ballot to any early voting center in their county, in contrast to strict precinct systems used in other states.
"California ranked 43rd in voter turnout nationally for the 2014 General Election. This problem cannot be ignored," Padilla, a Democrat, said in a statement accompanying the bill's announcement. "SB 450 would provide citizens more options for when, where and how they vote. Providing more options will help more citizens vote, despite our often busy lives."
The proposed changes to California's voting system are meant to emulate the all-mail election system Colorado implemented in 2014. Oregon and Washington were the first two states to switch to such a system. The three states that conduct all-mail elections consistently see significantly higher voter turnout than California does.
Another reform proposed by Padilla would register every eligible Californian who gets a driver's license, unless they opt out, echoing another initiative in Oregon. Similar legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday by Democratic Rep. David Cicilline (R.I.). And, in a speech last week, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton backed universal, automatic registration using Department of Motor Vehicles data.
A June poll from the Public Policy Institute of California found that 8 of 10 Californians say turnout is a problem, with healthy majorities supporting the automatic registration and vote-by-mail concepts.
Local election officials have expressed apprehension in the past about the cost of new election reforms, The Sacramento Bee reported. In response, Padilla said that all-mail elections will help counties move away from outdated election equipment, which they would need to replace in the future anyway.
If cost issues don't overcome Padilla's proposal, it would appear to have a decent chance of becoming law in California, where Democrats have significant majorities in both chambers of the state legislature and control the governor's mansion.