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State law on mail-in ballots will overrule SLO County policy 

A new state law that makes permanent a pandemic-era requirement to send mail-in ballots to all registered voters will supercede a recent San Luis Obispo County policy that sought to dial it back.

Assembly Bill 37, authored by Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park), sailed through the Legislature this summer and was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 28.

click to enlarge LAW OF THE LAND A new state law will require counties to send mail-in ballots to every registered voter. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • LAW OF THE LAND A new state law will require counties to send mail-in ballots to every registered voter.

In addition to cementing the universal vote-by-mail policy, the law extends the time ballots can arrive at county clerk's offices, from three days to up to a week after an election, as long as the vote was cast on or before Election Day.

"As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options, and bolstering elections integrity and transparency," Newsom said in a statement.

In May, the SLO County Board of Supervisors voted along partisan lines to adopt a more traditional election model come 2022—where vote-by-mail ballots are delivered only to those who request them and in-person polling places are open only on Election Day.

Those changes came amid a torrent of criticism from local Republican Party members about the November 2020 election—echoing unsubstantiated voter fraud allegations propagated by former President Donald Trump.

In its vote, the board, led by conservative supervisors John Peschong (1st District), Lynn Compton (4th District), and Debbie Arnold (5th District), also moved to consider adding election reforms, like voter ID laws, to their state legislative platform.

AB 37 applies to all counties and their elections officials. It does not include provisions on in-person voting, leaving that up to individual counties. Local Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham (R-SLO) voted against the bill, one of 17 Assembly members who opposed it.

In a statement to New Times, SLO County Democratic Party Chair Rita Casaverde praised the state law but expressed concern about the county's ongoing process to appoint a new county clerk-recorder.

On Sept. 28, the Board of Supervisors voted, again, along partisan lines, to potentially expand the field of applicants it will consider for the interim position. Its five-member selection committee had moved forward three candidates who had extensive experience in election offices, but the supervisor majority wanted more candidates to choose from.

"We're really happy and proud of the state," Casaverde said, "but are afraid that this is why the Republican majority at the county board is trying to get an unqualified person to run our elections."

The Republican Party of SLO County did not respond to a request for comment before press time. Δ

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