Newsletter: It’s easier than ever to vote in California. But don’t wait too long

A woman holds a toddler on her hip while standing in front of a voting booth
Sarah Kalili holds Chloe Kalili while voting at UCLA’s Ackerman Union in the September recall election. This month’s primary election is the first since permanent universal vote-by-mail became the law in California.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, June 3. I’m Sonja Sharp.

Do you ever have that nightmare where you’ve missed class all semester and now you have to ace the final to graduate?

That’s how I sometimes feel about primaries.

Sure, I know the big races. But there’s lots of small contests that even an A-student-turned-regular-voter can struggle to understand.


It doesn’t help I spent most of my voting life polling at an elementary school in Central Brooklyn. Every cycle, there’d be at least one race that wasn’t listed on the sample ballot or in the voter guide, forcing me to booth-Google the candidates while my son raged and wailed in my arms. Daycare drop-off started at 7:30 a.m., so I tried to cast my ballot beforehand, knowing I would be covering the election well into the evening.

That’s because, until 2019, most New Yorkers could cast their ballot only in person, from their own designated table in their own specified polling place, between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. on the day of the election.

Lines stretched down the block. The weather was reliably bad. Over the years, I’ve interviewed voters in rain, snow and wilting humidity. I’ve seen two-hour wait times and poll sites in tents. In 2013, I cast my ballot on an 840-pound shoup-lever contraption that predates the Beatles’ first single and the Salk polio vaccine.

Still, compared with many Americans, I was playing on easy mode. Since the Voting Rights Act was weakened in 2013, many Republican-led states have made it significantly harder to access the franchise.

So you can imagine my shock when I moved to Los Angeles in 2019 and learned I could vote by mail in perpetuity just by checking a box on my registration form.

Now, that choice is the default. This election is the first since permanent universal vote-by-mail became the law in California, and we could well see higher turnout as a result.


Maybe you’ve celebrated by voting early in person, or dropped your ballot off in the mail or a designated ballot box. Perhaps you’ve even checked to see your vote was counted by the county registrar.

But if your ballot is still sitting on your desk, or the nightstand, or underneath a stack of unread New Yorkers, don’t despair. This is an open-book take-home final, and we’ve got an extensive list of endorsements and a comprehensive guide for the perplexed.

You can also check here for your polling site, drop box or nearest post office.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

Preschool parents are breathing a sigh of relief after President Biden announced that vaccines for the youngest Americans could become available as soon as June 21. The move comes almost eight months after shots were approved for school-age children — a delay that has frustrated many parents, who say their youngsters were forgotten in the rush to drop mask mandates in schools and day cares. Los Angeles Times

The push to inoculate infants and toddlers has grown stronger as infections have once again surged across the state. Alameda County reinstated its mask mandate on Thursday, and Los Angeles could soon follow suit. Yet, plans to enact strict vaccine requirements for most California students and workers have foundered in Sacramento. Los Angeles Times


San Diego State University officials failed for months to investigate reports that a minor was gang raped by five university football players, or pursue discipline for those involved, a Times investigation found. The lack of action has distressed students and worried some victims’ advocates. Los Angeles Times

The family of former Dodger Glenn Burke, the first openly gay player in the majors (and the inventor of the high-five!), will celebrate his legacy at Dodger Stadium’s ninth annual Pride Night tonight. An exuberant athlete, Burke joined the Dodgers in 1976 and started in the 1977 World Series, but was traded to the A’s shortly after and quickly pushed out of baseball. He died in relative obscurity in 1995 of complications from AIDS. But he’s reemerged as a queer sports icon in recent years. New York Times

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No clear challenger has emerged to unseat embattled Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, despite a term plagued by scandals and self-inflicted wounds, my colleague Connor Sheets reported. The sheriff pulled far to the right after his election in 2018, angering many in the Democratic establishment who had supported him. Yet, that same establishment has struggled to select or support a potential successor. Los Angeles Times


The man charged with killing rapper and activist Nipsey Hussle in 2019 is set to stand trial for murder this month. But few in Crenshaw are following the case, or looking to a jury for justice, Times staffer James Queally reported. Los Angeles Times

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L.A. is poised to confirm its first monkeypox case, authorities said. Case clusters have emerged across the country in recent weeks, worrying COVID-weary Americans. But the disease is spread through close physical contact, and is far less contagious than SARS-CoV-2, experts said. Los Angeles Times


Not everything is bad! In fact, the Old Gays of TikTok are doing just great. This profile is a great read to kick off Pride Month. Los Angeles Times

A Bay Area bakery battle is heating up over rights to the mochi muffin, a dessert Berkeley’s Third Culture Bakery has fought to keep under trademark. Like other popular mochi-based confections, including the L.A.-born mochi ice cream, the mochi muffin is a different form factor for the same Japanese glutenous rice cake that Californians have enjoyed for generations. But Third Culture proprietor Wenter Shyu said maintaining exclusive rights to the mochi muffin is “how we pay our bills and how we pay our employees.” San Francisco Chronicle

Speaking of food and money, here are the cheapest treats from our list of 101 Best Restaurants in L.A. Los Angeles Times

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Los Angeles: Sunny, 78. San Diego: Partly cloudy, 68. San Francisco: Mostly cloudy, 65. San Jose: Sunny, 75. Fresno: Sunny, 90. Sacramento: Mostly sunny, 83.


Today’s California memory is from Ron Ranson:

In the late 1940s and mid-1950s, I lived in El Segundo where the fire department was staffed by volunteers. In an emergency, an extremely loud horn was sounded at the fire station to summon additional volunteers who were scattered throughout the city. The varied lengths of the horn blasts communicated where the volunteers needed to go. As an 11-year-old, I decoded the horn’s signal so I knew where to go for some action. I was proud to have a few photos published in the El Segundo Herald when I beat the staff photographer to the emergency scene.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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