California Elections Attorney/Official Says Be Patient – May Be Millions of Votes Left to Count

The 2020 General Election was the first all-mail-in-ballot election under California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s then-executive order, now a law. Since then, many voters still are not sure about the process. And after Tuesday’s California Primary Election, many voters have reservations.

The Globe spoke with Audrey Martin, an Elections attorney and Elections official for the Republican National Lawyers Association who works on election integrity, as well as with many county registrars.

Martin says California does mail-in voting well.

I told her that right before the 2020 General election I visited the Sacramento County’s Voter Registraton and Election office to learn what happens after a mail-in ballot is dropped off.

What I witnessed was a sophisticated production process replete with checks and double checks.

Martin agreed. She said she doesn’t necessarily agree with all of California’s voting laws, but most county registrars “are very well run.”

Martin said not all county voter registrars have the same computerized capabilities as Sacramento, so when some counties were sharing early totals on Election night, others still had bags of ballots stacked throughout their offices which had not yet been processed and counted.

“Theoretically there could be a lot of ballots to process – it’s usually a big number,” Martin said. Maybe millions? She said with so many people waiting to drop off their ballot, or mailing it on Tuesday, “it takes much more time by registrars on the back end.”

And this happens “because it is so easy to vote in California,” Martin said. There are many options, which also means people don’t always know the way to vote, particularly those who always voted on Election Day in person. The voting-by-mail for them just isn’t clear. For many, they are worried that their mailed ballot doesn’t get to the registrar, so they show up in person on Election Day to cast their vote. Martin said this takes county registrars so much extra time because they have to check the voter logs against the mailed ballots.

In the  Sacramento County’s Voter Registraton and Election office, ballots collected from the more than 170 official collection boxes around the county are sorted by precinct. Those ballots go next to employees operating the machines that slice open the return envelope, and a poof of air allows the operator to lift the ballot out, while a second operator separates but saves the envelope, which are used later for audits.

The ballots are scanned into the computer system, and voter signatures on the envelope are matched to the voter’s signature in the county elections system. If the operator feels the signatures don’t match, the voter is mailed a new signature page, which they fill out and send back.

Deep inside of the elections offices is a production center which resembles the production process in a printing plant bindery. Operators feed ballot return envelopes in stacks into a large machine which scans them, and separates by batches and precincts. Other operators act as auditors along the way. And there are phone banks of employees taking calls about the process.

There are employees in teams of two who analyze the actual ballot for any votes “X’d” out as a mistake, looking for voter intent. If they cannot make out the voter intent, it is left blank.

All of these operations are monitored by “Big Brother” – cameras in every room, from several angles.

With so many outstanding ballots, and 36 days to count them, expect some of the races to tighten up, or other candidates to pull away with bigger leads.

Photos: Scouts Roll Out Thousands of Flags in Annual LA Memorial Day Tradition

Every Year on the Saturday prior to Memorial Day, the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and members of the community get together to place 88,000 Flags on the final resting place of thousands of servicemembers at Los Angeles National Cemetery.

Maintaining their Memorial Day tradition, the Western Los Angeles County Council of the Boy Scouts of America paid tribute to fallen members of the armed services on Saturday, May 28, at Los Angeles National Cemetery.

Every Year on the Saturday prior to Memorial Day, the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and members of the community get together to place 88,000 Flags on the final resting place of thousands of servicemembers.

More than 5,000 people were to attend the event.

What became Memorial Day was first observed on May 30, 1868, as Decoration Day, a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the Civil War dead with flowers.

It was established 25 days earlier by Maj. Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of veterans who fought for the Union in the Civil War. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the nation.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Daily News

At $6.09 a Gallon, Los Angeles Pays Record Gas Price Over US Average

Los Angeles drivers know they pay more for gasoline than the average US driver: It’s the price for cleaner air in a state that’s made being green part of its DNA.

What motorists in LA — a city famed for its car culture — may not realize is that the amount they pay over the national average soared to more than $1.80 a gallon in late March, the widest in at least 10 years, according to data from the AAA.

So far, at least, the cash squeeze at the pump isn’t crimping travel plans, even though each tank costs about $24 more. The Auto Club of Southern California predicts 2.6 million local residents will take to the highways this Memorial Day weekend. That’s up 5% from 2021 but about 7% below 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic.

The cause for the spike in prices earlier this year was refinery outages, according to Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, which tracks prices at 150,000 US gas stations.

While the local refinery issues have largely been resolved, prices nationally have kept on climbing. Regular gasoline rose to $6.09 a gallon in LA this week, according to the AAA, still almost $1.50 more than the national average of around $4.60.

The higher prices in California are partly the result of taxes and state programs to reduce greenhouse gases, like a rule requiring a less-polluting blend of fuel. These measures add about $1.30 to the cost of a gallon, according to the Western States Petroleum Association, a trade group.

California also imports both oil and refined products, which must be trucked in or brought by tanker.

“We don’t have pipelines coming in from Texas and other parts of the country,” said Kevin Slagle, a spokesman for the oil group. “We have to ship it in from around the world.”

Prices, including the extra amount LA drivers pay, could spike again in the summer when travel picks up and a planned increase in the state tax is due to take effect. At the same time, a Chevron Corp. refinery in the state is scheduled for maintenance, and a South Korean refinery that supplies the US West Coast had some units offline after a fire.

To offer drivers some relief, Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who’s running for re-election this year, has proposed an $11 billion package that includes $400 refunds to personal car and truck owners, with a maximum of $800 for up to two vehicles.

Click here to read the full article in the Mercury News

Voters Say State Is On Wrong Track

Californians surveyed cite homelessness, gas prices and housing among top concerns.

Tents from a homeless encampment line a street in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016. Some 7,000 volunteers will fan out as part of a three-night effort to count homeless people in most of Los Angeles County. Naomi Goldman, a spokeswoman of the organizer the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, said the goal is to “paint a picture about the state of homelessness.” (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

Coronavirus cases are dropping and the state’s unemployment rate is on the decline, but most California voters still say the Golden State is headed in the wrong direction, with high gasoline prices, low housing affordability and persistent homelessness cited as the biggest challenges.

In a new survey on some of the most prominent economic topics, nearly 6 in 10 voters said the state is on the wrong track and more than 70% rated high gasoline prices as a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem. The survey of registered voters by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies was co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times.

“Californians are giving a negative rating of the direction of the state,” said Mark Di Camillo, director of the Berkeley institute’s poll. “That coincides with how voters are viewing their personal financial situation.”

In response to the pain at the pump, voters said they are likely to cut back on driving.

Few, however, said they expected to switch to public transit. Only 25% said they were likely to take buses or trains more often.

By contrast, 7 in 10 said they were likely to drive less around town or cancel vacations or weekend road trips because of the high prices.

The pain of high gasoline prices, which last month reached a statewide average of $5.73 a gallon — up $1.79 from a year ago, is felt most keenly by lower-income Californians, Black and Latino residents and those under 30, according to the survey.

Among California voters earning less than $40,000 a year, 81% said gasoline prices were a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem. At the other end of the income scale, 57% of those earning more than $200,000 said the prices were not a serious problem.

Gasoline prices were described as a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem by 79% of Black voters, 85% of Latino voters and 75% of voters under 30, according to the survey.

Lorena Mendez, an airline catering company worker at Los Angeles International Airport, struggles weekly deciding how to fill her tank and buy groceries, among other household expenses. She bought a house in Bakersfield because housing is more affordable there, but her commute to LAX is two hours in each direction. On some days, rather than driving home she stays with her mother, who lives closer to her job, to save on gas.

“Everything has gotten more expensive, gas and groceries,” she said in Spanish. “It’s hard to figure out which bill to pay first.”

Until recently, Mendez said, she earned about $22 an hour, but her bosses have cut her pay to about $18 an hour. She hopes to work extra hours to make up for the pay cut.

“I was barely able to pay my bills, and now with everything getting more expensive, it’s a struggle,” she said.

For many workers like Mendez who have long commutes, public transit isn’t a viable option. The poll asked voters who said they were not likely to take transit more often to choose up to two main reasons. Among the most common responses were that buses or trains were not convenient either to their destinations (45%) or their homes (35%), that transit takes longer than driving (39%) or that service isn’t frequent enough (20%).

A significant number said they don’t feel safe waiting for or riding on a bus or train (34%) or that they worry about catching COVID-19 or some other illness (16%). Safety concerns were more common in Los Angeles and Orange counties than in the San Francisco Bay Area or San Diego. Few voters — 3% statewide — said transit costs too much.

In 2016, Los Angeles County voters showed just how frustrated they were with traffic. They approved a half-cent sales tax that will pump out $120 billion over four decades to further build out a massive rail system that can carry commuters from the foothills to the sea and to make highway improvements.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has already spent $9.2 billion in the last 10 years on transit projects, including a yet-to-open light rail line running from the Mid-City area to the South Bay, a regional connector line and an extension of a line that connects the Westside to downtown L.A.

The agency projects it will spend an additional $30 billion on rail in the coming decade and will over the next few decades double the length of its interconnected rail system in the hope that it will lure more commuters across the region.

Academics said voter reluctance about riding transit in response to gas prices was not surprising.

“While gas prices have gone up, most roads and parking continue to be free and plentiful, incentivizing their use,” said Jacob Lawrence Wasserman, research project manager at UCLA’s Institute of Transportation Studies. “And, with transit not given the priority and service to get Angelenos to many destinations reliably, many are left stomaching higher gas prices instead.”

At the same time, by 56% to 35%, voters supported the state’s effort to build a high-speed rail system between Los Angeles and San Francisco that is already expected to be more than three times the original cost estimated when voters approved funding in 2008.

Registered Democrats favored the project 73% to 18%, but Republicans opposed it 66% to 25%. Nonpartisan voters supported the project 55% to 35%.

The glum attitude about the state’s direction was shared, to varying degrees, by California voters of nearly every age group, ethnicity and political stripe.

Just over half of Democrats said the state is headed in the wrong direction, and 93% of Republicans agreed with that gloomy assessment.

Only 21% of voters said they were financially better off than they were a year ago, 42% said they were worse off and 34% said there had been no change.

The survey showed voters are pessimistic about the future: Only 21% predicted they will be better off financially in a year, 30% said they would be worse off, and 44% expected no change in their financial situation.

The poll found that voters now rank the coronavirus near the bottom of a list of 15 challenges facing the state, far behind problems such as housing affordability, homelessness, crime, gas prices and climate change.

Over the last week, the state has averaged 2,824 new coronavirus cases, a decrease of 

Click here to read the full article at the LA Times

Working Californians Hit Hard By Gasoline Prices

A recent column in this space was headlined “Inflation, the cruelest tax.” Well, if inflation is the cruelest tax, then inflation’s impact on gasoline, combined with the nation’s highest tax, can only be characterized as “cruel and unusual punishment.”

In addition to inflation and taxes, other government policies related to petroleum are counterproductive. These include regulatory burdens and open hostility to the entire petroleum industry currently on display in both Washington and Sacramento. All this adds up to a lot of unnecessary pain being inflicted on the middle class and working poor.

But now, progressive politicians are looking at poll numbers with alarm as they discover that most Americans believe the nation is on the wrong track, due in large part to feckless and incompetent leadership. Rather than fix the problems, however, the reaction of both the Biden and Newsom administrations has been to deflect blame.

A couple of months ago, the Biden administration blamed rising fuel costs on supply chain issues. Then, returning to an old excuse resurrected when the need arises, the blame shifts to the “greedy oil companies.”

But even the most artful political spin is unlikely to change the public’s understanding of who is at fault. Republicans are replaying the video clip on a constant loop where Biden stated unequivocally, “No more drilling on federal lands. No more drilling, including offshore. No ability for the oil industry to continue to drill, period.” Moreover, the attempt to blame the war in Ukraine is especially easy to expose as unfounded. Gas prices were already at record levels before the hostilities began.

In California, Gov. Newsom is attempting to blunt the political backlash by promising some sort of rebate to taxpayers out of the state’s massive surplus. But any notion that he would do so out of the goodness of his heart would be in error. Taxpayer advocates in 1979 sponsored the Gann Spending Limit which voters overwhelming approved. It is the Gann Limit, not Newsom’s benevolence, that might afford some relief for California drivers filling up their tanks.

If skepticism among voters when it comes to energy policy is high nationally, it is even more so in California due to the long history of misspending and gas tax proceeds. For example, in 1990, voters were told that California’s roads, freeways and bridges were crumbling and that spending on transportation was so seriously inadequate that a gas tax increase was desperately needed to save California from ruin. Fast forward to 2017 with the infamous passage of Senate Bill 1, a massive tax increase of another 12 cents per gallon on gasoline, an additional 20 cents per gallon on diesel fuel and a sharp increase in the cost of vehicle registration.

Voter anger at high gas prices might be less intense if they believed they were getting good value in the form of well-maintained roads and highways. But California consistently ranks in the bottom ten of all states in highway maintenance despite having the highest gas tax.

Our political leaders claim that the pain we’re feeling is because addressing climate change is our highest priority. But many of the restrictions they impose are counterproductive to environmental well-being. For example, rather than encourage drilling in North America, we are increasingly reliant on oil shipped from overseas, including from despotic regimes. But oil tankers run on massive diesel engines and foul our ports. How does that help address climate change?

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register

How Can You Help People In Ukraine From California? A Ukrainian Lawmaker Has Some Ideas

Oleksandra Ustinova — who has been a member of the Ukrainian parliament for almost three years — was visiting her husband in Texas, where he is based, when Russia began its invasion of Ukraine.

Ustinova, a former anti-corruption activist, quickly flew to Washington D.C. to advocate for help for the country.

“I know a lot of decisions, unfortunately, regarding the lives of Ukrainians are taken here,” she said of the United States’ Capitol. “How strong the sanctions are going to be, how strong the response to what Putin is doing is going to be, is directly aligned with how many people die in Ukraine.”

The Sacramento Bee spoke with Ustinova on March 3, 2021, offering her views on how people in California and across the United States can help Ukraine from afar. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

WHAT IS HAPPENING IN UKRAINE?

“Lately, Putin has gone nuts. The first few days, he was shooting military bases and infrastructure. Airports were destroyed. Bridges are blown out. Main roads are totally destroyed. I cannot imagine how long and how expensive it’s going to take to fix this disaster, because the country lies in ruins.

Click here to read the full article at the Sacramento Bee

Feinstein Approval Ratings Plunge

Senator gets negative marks from nearly half of California voters in a new poll. VP Harris also scores poorly.

Views of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s job performance have tumbled to the lowest point in her three-decade Senate career, with just 30% ofCalifornia voters giving her positive marks in a new UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times.

Respondents gave similarly unenthusiastic marks to Vice President Kamala Harris, whose popularity is underwater, with 38% approval and 46% disapproval, while they were evenly divided in their rating of President Biden. The assessments of Biden and Harris dropped sharply from last summer, in line with their slumping poll numbers nationwide.

Amid the broadly pessimistic mood of California voters polled, two-thirds of whom said the country is headed in the wrong direction, the lagging approval for Democrats Feinstein and Harris stands out, said Mark DiCamillo, director of the IGS poll.

“I was amazed at the disaffection for both of the women,” DiCamillo said.

The 49% of registered voters giving Feinstein a negative assessment included respondents from core Democratic blocs: those who identify as “strongly liberal,” voters under 40, and Latinos and Asian Americans. In all regions of the state — including the major population centers of Los Angeles and the Bay Area, where she is from — a plurality of voters said they disapproved of her performance.

“I’ve never seen those constituencies moving to the negative side in unison as we’re seeing now,” said DiCamillo, who has conducted polls at UC Berkeley and, before that, the statewide Field Poll, on Feinstein’s popularity since she joined the Senate.

Most striking is her loss of popularity among female voters. Feinstein had typically performed strongly with women since 1992, when she and former Sen. Barbara Boxer became the first female senators from California. Now, a third of women surveyed said they approved of her performance, while 42% disapproved.

“For her to be underwater among female voters is a very significant and ominous sign for her,” DiCamillo said.

Throughout her tenure, Feinstein generally received positive marks from voters and was elected to the Senate six times. But her most recent campaign, in 2018, when she was 85 years old, rankled some in the state; now, at age 88, she is the oldest sitting senator and has had to swat down speculation about her retirement numerous times.

Her standing frayed in recent years with her party’s progressive flank, which complained that Feinstein, as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, was not tough enough on former President Trump’s nominees to the Supreme Court. She has made some overtures to strongly liberal voters; namely, softening her support for the Senate’s filibuster rule in order to advance voting rights legislation. But her popularity has been low since January 2021.

Her colleague, Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla, got slightly higher grades from voters in the IGS poll, with 34% approving and 26% disapproving. A plurality of respondents — 40% — said they had no opinion of his job performance, signaling that Padilla, 48, remains an unknown to many in the state since being appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last year to serve the remainder of Harris’ Senate term.

For Biden and Harris, the tepid reception from voters in reliably blue California underscores their larger woes in terms of public opinion.

Poll respondents were evenly split in their regard for Biden, with 47% approving and 48% disapproving. That marks a two-digit negative shift since the last IGS poll, in July, when his standing was at 59% approval and 37% disapproval.

While Biden, 79, still has the approval of 72% of California Democrats, that support dropped by 14 points in the last six months. Among voters with no party preference, his approval ratings plunged 15 points in that time, with 50% now disapproving of his performance.

Harris’ polling has followed the same downward trajectory as Biden’s; it is not uncommon for a vice president’s numbers to lag behind those of the president. But there’s little sign Harris, 57, is getting the boost in support that would be expected from voters in her home state.

Click here to read the full article at the LA Times

The People Behind California’s Plan To End Chronic Homelessness

Getting off the streets and into housing is often touted as a statistical success.

But reality is much more complicated.

Jackie Botts recently took CalMatters readers on an intimate tour of the winding road Fernando Maya, a formerly homeless veteran, traveled from the streets of Los Angeles to a Project Roomkey hotel room to his own studio apartment in subsidized housing.

His story highlights the myriad personal and systemic factors that make it difficult for people to find housing and stay housed – including the collision with a car while bicycling and head injury that hampered Maya’s efforts to rebuild his life.

In the latest episode of “Gimme Shelter: The California Housing Crisis Podcast,” CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias and the Los Angeles Times’ Liam Dillon interviewed Jackie and Maya about his story and her reporting process.

So where is Maya now, and what lays in store for him next?

“Well, I’ve got a door. I’ve got a door with a key. I have seven days a week for cop shows,” he joked. 

On being inside, he reflected, “This is always a positive for me, every day. Because it is secure. I have the walls to secure me from the elements, I don’t have crashes blowing by me.”

Jackie recounted first meeting Maya two years ago, while reporting on the state’s food aid program.

“You were excited to talk to a journalist and I remember you saying, like, ‘I can be your eyes and your ears on the street,’” she said. “It just seemed like you had a story worth telling and so we kept in touch and I would just like, check in and ask you little questions.”

The story gained urgency as the state announced a $12 billion appropriation last summer to address the California homeless crisis, a chunk of which recently became available to expand mental health housing and treatment.

But a severe worker shortage in the California homeless services field threatens the state’s ability to massively expand services. Many homeless service workers — who make low wages for high-stress jobs — are burned out.

Maya talked about the importance of case workers to him and other people experiencing homelessness. “Some of us need help,” he said. “Some of us don’t know we need help.”  

Click here to read the full article at CalMatters

Reparations Are For Descendants of Black Slaves, Weber Says

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California’s secretary of state said Thursday that reparations for African Americans should be limited to people whose forbears were kidnapped from their homeland, stripped of their ancestry and left with nothing after generations of forced labor.

Shirley Weber, the daughter and granddaughter of sharecroppers who authored legislation creating the first-in-the-nation task force to study reparations, said while Black immigrants have suffered from racism in the U.S., they always had a country to return to. Slavery was more than a physical condition, she said, and its psychological impact stunted people’s ability to strive beyond survival.

“The fear my grandfather felt, I remember as a child, was palpable, and it crippled him and his family’s ability to dream beyond the cotton fields,” Weber said at Thursday’s meeting of the task force to study and develop reparations for African Americans. The meeting continues Friday.

She said that Barack Obama likely never would have dreamed of becoming president had he descended from enslaved people. Obama, the country’s first Black president, had a white mother and a Black father from Kenya who came to the U.S. to study. Obama, she said, “did not have limitations and fears drilled in his psyche, and thus aspire to become the president of the United States.”

The nine-member task force, which started meeting in July, is on a two-year timeline to address the harms of slavery, especially given inaction at the federal level. Critics have said that California did not have slaves as in other states and that it shouldn’t have to address the issue, or pay for it.

But expert testimony being heard by the task force overwhelmingly points to large racial disparities in wealth, health and education in California. African Americans make up just 6% of California’s population yet were 30% of an estimated 250,000 people experiencing homelessness who sought help in 2020. Their communities have been razed in the name of redevelopment and Black people remain over-represented in jails.

In September, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation returning prime beachfront property to descendants of a Black couple who had the land taken away by eminent domain.

Click here to read the full article at AP News

Judge Allows Earlier Potential Releases for Repeat Offenders at California Prisons

SACRAMENTO — A judge is allowing California to proceed with plans to allow earlier potential prison release dates for repeat offenders with serious and violent criminal histories under the state’s “three strikes” law.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shama Mesiwala has lifted the temporary restraining order she imposed last month.

That order temporarily blocked California corrections officials from acting on emergency regulations allowing them to increase good conduct credits for second-strike inmates serving time for nonviolent offenses who are housed at minimum-security prisons and camps.

Their daily credits can now increase from half off their sentences to two-thirds off their sentences.

The ruling “clears the way for the Department to implement regulations that incentivize incarcerated people to participate in positive rehabilitative activities and avoid negative behavior,” corrections department spokeswoman Vicky Waters said in an email.

Twenty-eight of California’s 58 district attorneys moved to block the rule, but Mesiwala agreed with corrections officials that the prosecutors lacked standing to challenge the regulations.

The prosecutors argued that it would apply to those convicted of, among other things, domestic violence, human trafficking, animal cruelty and possession of weapons by inmates who have previous convictions for serious and violent felonies. California has a narrow definition of what constitutes a violent crime.

They argued that they had legal standing to challenge the rules because they “represent over 20 million Californians who have been impacted by these so-called emergency regulations.”

But the judge ruled Thursday that the prosecutors do not have legal standing, which is “fatal to their contention that they have shown a likelihood they will prevail upon their claims.”

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register