‘Ballot harvesting’ battle ramps up — legal fight seems imminent

Oct 15, 2020 | Cal Matters

City of Redlands work crews install a ballot drop box in front of a Police Department building at the city's corporate yard on Thursday morning in Riverside on Oct. 1, 2020. Secure boxes will be located across the county and are one way for voters to return their ballots. Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG

The political stakes of the ongoing face-off between the California Republican Party and some of the state’s top Democratic elected officials over “ballot harvesting” practices just got a lot higher.

The California GOP said it would not stop collecting voter ballots in unofficial drop boxes in a Wednesday letter to Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who on Monday sent the party a cease-and-desist letter demanding it remove the boxes. Unless Padilla and Becerra accept the GOP’s legal argument — which could cause them to lose political face amid a contentious election — the two parties seem primed to go to court.

  • Hector Barajas, spokesperson for the California GOP, to me: “If we have to go to court, we’ll go to court.”
  • Padilla on Monday: “If they refuse to comply, then of course we will entertain all of our legal options to do whatever it takes to protect voters and the integrity of this election.”

Incidentally, the parties are already duking it out in court. Last week, the GOP’s lawyer, Thomas Hiltachk, sued Padilla on behalf of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association for awarding a $35 million voter-education contract to a public-affairs firm linked to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.

The drop-box battle caught the eye of President Donald Trump, who in a pair of Tuesday and Wednesday tweets encouraged California Republicans to “fight hard” and told Democrats “see you in court.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom had a Twitter message of his own Tuesday.

  • Newsom: “CA will do everything in our power to protect the sanctity of the vote.”

The fight over where and how voters can deposit their ballots is taking place against a backdrop of historic early voting in California’s first all-mail election. More than 1.5 million voters had returned mail-in ballots as of Wednesday morning, compared to 150,000 at the same point in 2016, according to the secretary of state’s office.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Wednesday night, California had 855,072 confirmed coronavirus cases and 16,639 deaths from the virus, according to a CalMatters tracker.

Also: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. And we’re tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county.


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Other stories you should know

1. PG&E shuts off power for 52,000 customers

Sunset behind electrical lines outside of Bay Point along highway 4 on Sept. 15, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
The sun sets behind electrical lines outside of Bay Point on Sept. 15, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Around 52,000 PG&E customers in portions of 24 counties woke up this morning without power after the utility initiated shutoffs to reduce fire risk amid dry, powerful winds sweeping through Northern California. Another 700 customers are expected to lose power this afternoon. In addition to deploying some temporary microgrids and generators, PG&E is opening 40 community resource centers to provide affected customers with power, restrooms, Wi-Fi, bottled water and snacks. The shutoffs will likely last through Friday night.

Cal Fire, the state firefighting agency, said it had increased staffing to prepare for extreme fire risk. Wildfires have already burned more than 4.1 million acres this year, threatening not only homes but also assisted-living centers, wineries and college campuses. Eighteen public universities in California are located in high-risk fire zones, pushing campus leaders to tighten up evacuation plans and fire mitigation tactics, CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn and Erica Yee report.

2. Stem cell research before voters — again

Dr. Gerhard Bauer at the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) laboratory at UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures in Sacramento, where stem cell therapies are tested and produced. Photo courtesy of UC Davis Health
Dr. Gerhard Bauer at the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures in Sacramento. Photo courtesy of UC Davis Health

If you thought kidney dialysis clinics were the only complex medical topic you’d be voting on in November, you forgot about Prop. 14, a measure that would funnel $5.5 billion into California’s stem cell research program. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine has used up almost all of its $3 billion in state funding — approved by voters in 2004 — and is looking for more to support research into treatments for Alzheimer’s, cancer, spinal cord injuries and other diseases, CalMatters’ Barbara Feder Ostrov reports. But the institute’s track record is mixed, with proponents saying its research has helped save lives and critics contending that its board members often showcase conflicts of interest when awarding funding.

  • Sandra Dillon, a blood cancer patient: “It is unimaginable to think that Californians would vote to discontinue this amazing effort — I don’t know … what condition I would be in if it wasn’t for the investment Californians made nearly two decades ago.”
  • Jeff Sheehy, a CIRM board member who opposes Prop. 14: “I think the agency’s done good work, but this was never planned to be funded forever with debt. At this point the state can’t afford it; we’re looking at a huge deficit.”

3. Update: women on corporate boards

Image via iStock

Women have claimed 669 seats on the boards of California’s publicly held companies since 2018, the year then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law mandating women in corporate boardrooms, according to a Tuesday report from the California Partners Project. The nonprofit cofounded by First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom commissioned the report, which also found that the number of all-male corporate boards fell from 29% to 2.3%.

The report found that at least 665 more women need to join California corporate boards to comply with state law, which requires five-member boards have at least two female directors and boards with six-plus members have at least three female directors by the end of 2021.

  • Siebel Newsom: “We are the fifth-largest economy in the world. If we can get this right, we have an opportunity to inspire the rest of the country and other countries.”

Last month, Siebel Newsom’s husband signed a law mandating corporate boards have at least one member from an underrepresented community.


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Upcoming events

Oct. 21, 5-6:30pm: Rebuilding and Resiliency: How We Need to Handle Wildfires From Now On. In this two-part virtual event, CalMatters examines California wildfires through the lens of Rebuilding Paradise, a new documentary from Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard. Register | Submit Your Questions


CalMatters commentary

New leadership needed: Assembly Transportation Committee Chair Jim Frazier has obstructed California’s progress in moving toward clean transportation, argues Mary Creasman of the California League of Conservation Voters.

Building climate change resilience: We must create new forms of collaboration across local nonprofit, business and government players, write Matthew Armsby of the Resources Legacy Fund and Marisa Buchanan of JPMorgan Chase.


Other things worth your time

Editorial: California’s 40 million people are sick of being ignored. // New York Times

Sacramento rents are spiking amid the pandemic. Why the Bay Area’s to blame. // Sacramento Bee

Amazon workers stage vigil at Jeff Bezos’ Beverly Hills mansion. // CalMatters

Social justice advocates call for removal of former Gov. Pete Wilson statue. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Bobcat Fire aftermath threatens endangered species in San Gabriel Mountains. // Los Angeles Times

Imperiled desert tortoise joins California’s endangered list — at least for now. // Los Angeles Times

‘Highly endangered’ lemur missing from San Francisco Zoo. // San Francisco Chronicle

San Diego Zoo scientists revive cells from deep freeze to clone endangered horse. // San Diego Union-Tribune


See you tomorrow.

Tips, insight or feedback? Email emily@calmatters.org.

Follow me on Twitter: @emily_hoeven

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