A newly signed state law makes spreading misinformation about voting by mail a misdemeanor criminal offense.
Authored by Sen. Henry Stern, D-Los Angeles, SB 739 took effect immediately after being signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday.
“If you’re putting out tweets, Facebook posts or using social and other types of media to intentionally mislead voters about their right and ability to vote by mail, that’s now a crime, and it’s my hope local D.A.s and the state attorney general will go after violators the moment they see them,” Stern said. “In the midst 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 are getting accurate, reliable information.”
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, a record number of California voters are expected to cast their ballots by mail for the Nov. 3 general election. The new law makes it a misdemeanor to intentionally mislead a voter about their right to apply for, receive and return a vote-by-mail ballot.
“The spread of misinformation and disinformation are enormous threats to our elections. Voting by mail is a critical component of our plans to keep our elections accessible, secure and safe during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Secretary of State Alex Padilla said. “We need to discourage and combat election disinformation that could disenfranchise citizens. Our democracy depends on it.”
According to Padilla, nearly 60% of California’s voters are registered as permanent vote-by-mail voters and receive mail-in ballots before each election as allowed by California law.
It was already a misdemeanor for anyone to knowingly mislead voters about the location of their polling place or qualifications needed to register to vote.