A bill introduced by state Sen. Henry Stern, D-Calabasas, that would make distribution of false or misleading information to voters regarding the qualifications for a vote-by-mail ballot a crime, is pending on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.
Existing law already makes it a misdemeanor for a person to distribute or cause to be distributed communications to a known voter “to include voting information that is incorrect, false or misleading,” according to an analysis of Stern’s Senate Bill 739.
The bill specifically looks into vote-by-mail, following the recent statewide law ordering county election officials to send all registered voters their vote-by-mail ballots for the Nov. 3 general election, rather than by request, due to the pandemic.
SB 739 would “specifically include within this prohibition a false or misleading communication regarding the qualifications to apply for, receive, or return a vote-by-mail ballot. By creating a new crime, this bill would create a state-mandated local program,” according to the proposal.
The legislation would also allow, rather than require, election officials to include vote-by-mail applications with county voter information guides for the election only.
“In the middle 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 that people who try to mislead voters about those rights will face consequences,” said the statement from Stern, who is also a member of the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee. “Democracy is too fragile to allow disinformation campaigns to compromise the right of any Californian to cast his or her ballot.”
In the Legislature, the bill passed the Senate on a 32-0 vote and the Assembly on a 72-1 vote. All lawmakers whose districts represent the Santa Clarita Valley supported it.
If signed by Newsom, who has until Sept. 30 to consider the bill, SB 739 would take effect immediately for the November election.