What California Is Doing to Prepare for Elections During the Pandemic

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Main News Photo

It’s not enough to declare a trend, Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a daily news briefing. Don’t make it your headline, he cautioned.

The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units across the state had decreased to 1,132 from 1,154 the day before, he said — a 1.9% decline. Slight, to be sure.

“Nonetheless,” he said, “it is encouraging.”

After sharing that news, the governor sought to allay concerns from officials in some counties, including Riverside, that the state’s move to loan ventilators to other states left California’s own hospitals in a precarious spot.

“It was the right thing to do and it was the responsible thing to do as Americans,” he said. “We can’t just sit on assets when we could save lives.”

He said that over roughly the past month, California’s hospital system had increased the number of ventilators in its hospitals to 11,747 from 7,587.

At the moment, he said, the hospital system was using 31.89% of the available ventilators, which means that more than 8,000 ventilators were currently unused, not including the state-owned ventilators that have been sent across the nation.

Gov. Newsom added that he’s “not naïve.” The state has a mutual aid system to ensure that each county has more than enough ventilators as they need at any given time. He emphasized that the state was working to continue to refurbish and find more ventilators in the meantime.

“It’s all part and parcel of a broader strategy,” he said.

‘Wisconsin should not be a preview'

Voters across the country recently watched with a mixture of horror and admiration as Wisconsinites waited for hours in long, haphazardly spaced lines, many wearing masks — but some not — effectively risking lives, to vote.

For California’s secretary of state, Alex Padilla, the images were less surprising than they were flashing red signs that election administrators have their work cut out for them in the coming months.

“Wisconsin should not be a preview, it should be an alarm,” Mr. Padilla told me. “What happened on Tuesday was absolutely avoidable.”

Padilla estimated that California will receive roughly $35 million from the federal coronavirus relief package from the $400 million for elections around the country, plus a 20% match required from the state. That won’t be enough, he said.

The state is working with California’s counties to encourage as much voting by mail and early voting as possible without making it onerous to cast an in-person Election Day ballot. It’s also important, officials have said, to maintain same-day registration.

That means dealing with a range of challenges, like finding larger polling places where it’s possible to space out booths — senior homes are not a good idea, for instance, Padilla noted — and getting enough personal protective gear to protect poll workers. And then there’s the matter of the poll workers themselves.

“How do we replace the seniors and retirees that have made up the Election Day work force?” he asked. Even by November, the danger posed by COVID-19 will not have completely passed, particularly for vulnerable older workers.

Padilla said his office was looking into ways to reach out to people who have recently become unemployed.

Still, he said that California was better positioned than many states. Millions of Golden State voters already receive mail-in ballots without having to request them and can vote in person starting 10 days before Election Day, under the Voter’s Choice Act.

And while new voting centers in Los Angeles County were dogged by long lines on Super Tuesday, experts said that was probably because officials rolled out several major changes to the county’s voting systems at once.

A spokesman for the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s office said in an email that the county was “exploring the feasibility of sending every registered voter” a vote-by-mail ballot for the November election and that the office was working on a report analyzing what the county can do to prevent the long lines in the future.

And late last month, the governor ordered that every voter in the 25th Congressional District will get a ballot in the mail ahead of a special election on May 12.

That’s where residents are set to decide who will fill the vacancy left by Katie Hill until the results of the November election determine her full-term successor.

Similarly, Riverside County voters in the 28th State Senate District will all receive vote-by-mail ballots ahead of its May 12 special election.

Gov. Newsom’s office also announced an executive order switching three special local elections in May and June to exclusively mail-in ballots.

Source: New York Times

Category: COVID-19, Advocacy News