Republicans sue California Governor Gavin Newsom, claim his vote-by-mail order is “illegal power grab”

Republican groups are suing California Governor Gavin Newsom, claiming his recent executive order to mail every registered voter in the state a ballot ahead of the November election is an “illegal power grab” that redesigns the election system.

The lawsuit alleges Newsom’s order is “less about protecting the health of Californians and more about protecting the electoral prospects of the Governor’s political party.”

The Republican National Party, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the California Republican Party are listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was filed Sunday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.

“In a direct usurpation of the legislature’s authority, Governor Newsom issued an executive order purporting to rewrite the entire election code for the November 2020 election cycle,” read the complaint. “This brazen power grab was not authorized by state law and violates both the Elections Clause and Electors Clause of the U.S. Constitution.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom gives an update on the state's coronavirus response during a news conference at the Governor's Office of Emergency Services in Rancho Cordova, California, March 30, 2020.
California Governor Gavin Newsom seen March 30, 2020.


The lawsuit contends that the U.S. Constitution reserves for “state legislatures the power to set the time, place and manner of holding elections for Congress and the President.” It further argues that state executive officers like Newsom “have no authority to unilaterally exercise that power.”

RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Democrats are using “this pandemic as a ploy to implement their partisan election agenda, and Governor Gavin Newsom’s executive order is the latest direct assault on the integrity of our elections.”

Republicans also pointed out that California has moved into Phase 2 of its reopening plan and Newsom himself said recently that Phase 3, which would allow hair salons, churches and professional sports to reopen, could happen as early as June. The GOP says Newsom did not clarify how his executive order will be “justified in light of such progress” in California.

“California will continue to defend Californians’ right to vote, including their right to vote by mail, and the right to hold an election that is safe, secure and accessible,” Newsom’s press secretary, Jesse Melgar, said in a statement. “Voters shouldn’t have to choose between their health and their right to vote.”

“Expanding vote-by-mail during a pandemic is not a partisan issue — it’s a moral imperative to protect voting rights and public safety,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla in a statement. “Vote-by-mail has been used safely and effectively in red, blue, and purple states for years. This lawsuit is just another part of Trump’s political smear campaign against voting by mail. We will not let this virus be exploited for voter suppression.”

The executive order earlier this month made California the first state to in the nation to mail voters a ballot ahead of the November presidential election as a response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Mail-in ballot is important but it’s not an exclusive substitute to physical locations,” Newsom said May 8 at a press conference announcing the executive order. He promised California will still work to have “the appropriate number of physical sites for people to vote as well.”

Newsom also ordered local counties to provide clear plans for their in-person voting requirements. Those plans are due at the end of May.

Padilla has been pushing for vote-by-mail initiatives across the country since the coronavirus outbreak began and initially called Newsom’s executive order “huge.” He added “there is no safer, physically distancing, healthier way to exercise your right to vote than from the safety and convenience of your home.”

The concept of mail-in voting has been at the forefront of the debate over how to proceed with November’s election. Four states already conduct their general elections by mail, and Hawaii is set to become the fifth state to move entirely to vote-by-mail this year. Another 28 states and Washington D.C. offer “no-excuse” absentee or mail voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

California already allows vote-by-mail, but voters have to specifically make a request for the ballot. Under Newsom’s executive order, voters will automatically get a ballot without having to put in an official request.

Registered voters currently living in California will receive a ballot 29 days prior to Election Day. Military members and voters living abroad will get their ballots in the mail 45 days before Election Day.

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