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How to Vote by Mail in California

2020-08-14 12:54:33
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Good morning.

When it comes to preparing for a presidential election in which more voters are expected to cast their ballots by mail than ever before, California will have a head start.

Thanks to the 2016 Voter’s Choice Act, voters in some of the state’s most populous counties already got ballots mailed to them automatically ahead of the March primary. And in May, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered that every voter in the state receive a ballot before the Nov. 3 general election.

(Explore mail-voting rules across the country.)

Nevertheless, a recent report from the University of California, Riverside, Center for Social Innovation found that, in order for the state to get first-time or harder-to-reach voters to the polls — physical or not — there’s work that must be done.

“It’s important to get people familiar with the options that they have,” Karthick Ramakrishnan, a U.C. Riverside professor and the center’s director, told me. “The standard, cookie-cutter approach in terms of voter education isn’t going to work.”

That means meeting voters where they are, especially non-English-speaking voters: in communities across the Inland Empire and the Central Valley, where Latino voters casting ballots for the first time may not recognize themselves in campaigns showing white-collar office workers heading to the polls on their lunch breaks; and with shareable content on WeChat or WhatsApp, to reach members of various diasporas.

Mr. Ramakrishnan said that although California is among the best-prepared states for the election, along with Oregon and Washington, the pandemic and questions about disinformation and the funding of the U.S. Postal Service are unique challenges.

(Read about how Facebook will promote voting by mail, even as President Trump continues his erroneous attacks on the method.)

The ultimate goal, Francisco I. Pedraza, an assistant professor and the report’s lead author, said in a statement, is to give first-time or so-called low-propensity voters, “reassurance that their vote will be delivered” — whether they prefer to leave the ballot they filled out at home in a voting-center drop box or mail it in, or vote in person at a polling place where poll workers speak whatever language makes them feel comfortable.

Language skills are a key ask in an effort by the California Secretary of State’s office to recruit new poll workers, since many who have worked previously are retirees who would be more vulnerable to Covid-19.

“This year, many Californians that would normally volunteer are being asked to stay home for their safety,” Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in a statement, “so we need the next generation of poll workers to step up and meet this moment.”

A spokesman for his office, Sam Mahood, said in an email that in-person voting options are “particularly critical for newer voters and those who may need assistance.”

Poll worker needs will vary by county, but you can fill out an application to help at the state’s new portal, here.

(This article is part of the California Today newsletter. Sign up to get it by email.)


Alex Padilla, the secretary of state, for example. Not a surprise. But some were intriguing. Several names on peoples’ lists were people who mainly have been talked about as governor material, like Xavier Becerra, the state’s attorney general, and Eleni Kounalakis, who is lieutenant governor.

And a few were just wonderful reminders that there’s no such thing as a retired politician. Someone threw out Willie Brown’s name and I remembered covering his supposed “retirement” from the arena almost 20 years ago after he stepped down as mayor of San Francisco. Lion in winter, indeed.

(Read the full story.)

What’s the biggest question you want to answer next? (In this case, we’ll say biggest question other than, “Who’s it going to be?”)

Oh, I want to see Kamala Harris debate Mike Pence, don’t you?

And then, if she and Joe Biden succeed and get to the White House, I’ll be looking to see what California values she brings with her.

And I’ll be watching the Bay Area, to see the joy they’ll have if she makes it. There’s no joy like Bay Area joy. In the Senate, I will be watching to see how her replacement makes his or her mark. And then, if Dianne Feinstein retires, of course, that will be a whole other derby.

(Read a behind-the-scenes look at how Joe Biden picked Ms. Harris.)


  • On Thursday, California reached yet another grim milestone: It became the first state to report 600,000 virus cases. (The New York Times)

Track every reported coronavirus case and death in California by county with our interactive map. (The New York Times)

I’m not going to lie to you: I was wearing bike shorts when I came across this article from our Style desk, about how now is the time for bike shorts, and I agree heartily with many of the arguments in their favor. (I would also like to note for the record that I bought my first new pair of bike shorts in about two decades last summer, in firmly pre-pandemic times.)

In any case, if you have not yet discovered for yourself the relatively polished comfort and freedom of movement that bike shorts provide, you’re welcome.

And with that, enjoy the weekend.


California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: [email protected]. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.

Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, went to school at U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.


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