State Bill To Test Limits of Election Fraud Claims In California

Civil Rights Policy Brief #201 | By: Rodney A. Maggay | February 28, 2023

Header photo taken from: Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise / SCNG




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Assemblyman Bill Essayli (R-CA) speaking on bill to end the automatic mailing of ballots to all California voters, make Election Day a state holiday, and introduce other election measures.

Photo taken from: Katy Grimes / California Globe

Policy Summary

Last month in California Assemblymember Bill Essayli, a Republican from Riverside County, introduced AB 13 that seeks to make changes to existing California state election law. There are five specific changes contained in AB 13. The bill would first eliminate the requirement of automatically mailing a ballot to every single registered voter in the state. 

The bill would also restrict who can return a completed ballot if the voter is unable to physically do so to only family members and persons who are living in the same household as the voter. Furthermore, AB 13 would eliminate voting centers and also shorten the time period for county registrars to receive a mail – ballot from seven days down to three days in order to be counted. Finally, the bill would make Election Day a state holiday. LEARN MORE

Policy Analysis

While AB 13 is notable for introducing changes that could affect how elections are conducted in California there are other reasons separate from the bill that make the bill noteworthy. The first reason is the bill was introduced by a Republican member of the California state legislature. And, the bill is being viewed as a hint as to how Republicans might try to narrow the issue of voting fraud and election integrity to a smaller set of issues.

Currently, California Democrats have overwhelming majorities in both the state senate and the state assembly. They control 62 of 80 seats in the Assembly and 32 of 40 seats in the State Senate. The current Governor Gavin Newsom is also a Democrat. This supermajority in both houses of the state legislature and control of the Governor’s mansion make it challenging for Republicans to pursue policies that they favor in the state. 

A Republican politician who sponsors an election bill in California that hints at debunked claims of election fraud has to know that the bill’s chances in the state are incredibly slim. California Democrats would never support a bill that implies that state elections are rigged or not secure. Assemblymember Essayli’s bill could be seen as a waste of time in a state dominated by Democrats.

When a number of candidates supported by President Trump lost key federal and state races in the 2022 election, the losses were seen as a rebuke of President Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him and that U.S. elections are somehow rigged. However, some candidates clung hard to the Big Lie, likely as a way to explain their own election loss. 

What Assemblymember Essalyi’s introduction of AB 13 is being seen as is a way to continue the theme of broken elections but narrowing the issue to make it more palatable to persons who might not believe that elections are rigged and unsecure. Instead of throwing every conceivable conspiracy theory out there as to why a certain election is not legitimate, Republican Essayli’s bill focuses on a limited number of issues. 

Past anti-ballot voting sentiment in California is still prevalent in the state since Trump’s 2020 loss.

Photo taken from: Politifact California, Twitter 

(click or tap to enlargen)

AB 13 first tries to eliminate California’s requirement of mailing a ballot to every registered voter. This requirement was only recently implemented in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And the bill would also change who can return a completed ballot on behalf of another person and then shortens the time for ballots to be collected from the county registrar – down to three days from seven.

While these proposals may seem benign on the surface, the fact that a Republican politician is trying to introduce these election reforms in a Democratic controlled state signals that Republicans may be trying to move on from loud unfounded claims of voter fraud with no evidence to more narrow and focused election claims that might garner support.

Luckily, Democrats in the California Assembly and other groups were quick to push back. Some called the bill another excuse for GOP candidates to fix a non – existent problem simply because an election did not go their way. And others pushed back that problems thought to exist in ballot harvesting, having ballots mailed to everyone and long collection periods that delay the results of an election are problems that are being exaggerated to an extreme. 

But the danger of election deniers and the false information that they peddle is still out there and a threat. Republican politicians can still introduce bills that sound ordinary and pose no threat on the surface. Or they can include provisions that have wide appeal like making Election Day a state holiday to make a bill sound good. 

What needs to be done to counter these threats is to closely scrutinize these voting bills and make sure they do not go further than what is intended and that they do not roll back advancements made in California. With Assemblymember Essayli’s AB 13, Democrats must ensure that the proposals are rational, justified and necessary and not merely an echo of Trump’s lies about the 2020 election. LEARN MORELEARN MORE

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on resource URL to visit links where available 

American Progress – group’s report on how election deniers fared in the 2022 elections.

nbc news

NBC News – report on the dangers election deniers pose to future elections.

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