Newsletter: Enter the California primary

California voters cast their ballots on Nov. 2, 2010, in Venice.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Feb. 4, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

For the record:

10:30 a.m. Feb. 4, 2020A previous version of this newsletter incorrectly referred to Iowa as the Buckeye State. It is the Hawkeye State.

After completing a very elaborate game of political Red Rover in church basements, senior centers and high school gymnasiums across the Hawkeye State, the people of Iowa have spoken — even if it wasn’t immediately clear Monday night what they said, after computer problems delayed the results.

But forget Iowa, let’s talk California.

Although the California primary is still about a month away, voting has technically already begun: Counties started sending out vote-by-mail ballots on Monday, and several early voting centers around the state are up and running. Here are answers to a few questions you might have.

[See also: “What you need to know before voting in California’s primary election” in the Los Angeles Times]


Getting registered

You can check your voter registration status here. The deadline to register online or by mail is Feb. 18, a cool two weeks away. But even if you blow that deadline, a new California law will allow voters to register to vote after Feb. 18, including on election day, at a county elections office, neighborhood polling place or community vote center.

L.A. County residents who want to vote by mail must request a ballot by Feb. 25. (Voters in the other 14 Voter’s Choice Act counties do not need to request a mail-in ballot and will receive one automatically. Voters who do not live in a Voter’s Choice county must request a mail-in ballot.)

What to know about political affiliation and voting in the presidential primary

If you’re registered as a Republican, Democrat or member of the state’s four other officially recognized political parties, you’ll be able to cast a vote for your party’s presidential nominee. But more than one quarter of California’s 20 million voters are registered with no party preference, and things get a little more complicated for them.

Three political parties — Democrats, Libertarians and American Independents — allow unaffiliated voters to cast ballots for their presidential candidates. BUT you must request a “crossover ballot” in order to do so. If you plan to vote by mail, you’ll need to request your crossover ballot by the Feb. 25 vote-by-mail deadline. If you’re voting in person, you just need to request the crossover ballot when you check in at a vote center.


The state’s three other officially recognized parties — Republicans, Green, and Peace and Freedom — will not allow unaffiliated voters to participate in the presidential contest. If you’re currently registered as having “no party preference” and want to vote in one of those three presidential primaries, you’ll need to change your registration to that party. You have until Feb. 18 — the general registration deadline — to do so.

And contrary to what your uncle may have posted on Facebook, there isn’t some nefarious plot to limit Republican voter participation in the California primary. The limits on participation are imposed by state and federal party leaders, and the California GOP has gotten some blowback for its choice to exclude independent voters.

The Voter’s Choice Act

For Angelenos and residents in several other parts of the state, this year’s primary will usher in a substantially different voting experience as more counties adopt the Voter’s Choice Act.

Passed in 2016 with the goal of providing voters more flexibility on when and how they cast ballots, the Voter’s Choice Act is the rare “optional” law — meaning counties can choose when and if they will transition into the new voting model. Five counties (Madera, Napa, Nevada, Sacramento and San Mateo) pioneered implementation in 2018, and 10 more (Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Fresno, Los Angeles, Mariposa, Orange, Santa Clara and Tuolumne) joined the list for 2020.

Californians who live in those 15 counties will no longer use neighborhood polling places. A more limited number of community vote centers, which provide services including voter registration, will open 10 days before election day. Additional vote centers will open the weekend before election day. Voters can cast their ballots at any of the vote centers in their county on election day, or they can choose to vote during a more convenient time for them during the days prior. You can look up vote centers near you here.


If you live in one of the 43 California counties not named above, Voter’s Choice Act changes won’t affect you this primary season.

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

University of California faculty leaders are recommending the continued use of the SAT and ACT as an admission requirement. Critics say the standardized tests discriminate on the basis of race and income, but faculty leaders cite data that tests help boost enrollment of disadvantaged students. Los Angeles Times


In keeping with the election theme, a quick reminder to Academy voters that today is your last day to cast ballots ahead of Sunday’s Oscar ceremony. And in other Oscar news, a confusing tweet from the official Academy account — which has since been deleted — sparked confusion, leaving many wondering if the organization had accidentally leaked the winners of Sunday’s show in advance or had its account hacked somehow. But alas, that was not the case. Los Angeles Times

L.A. leaders are weighing a new idea to stop rent hikes: Force landlords to sell their buildings. Los Angeles Times

As the cost of housing skyrockets, Los Angeles’ once-vast middle class is winnowing out. This multi-part series examines what that means for the city on a variety of fronts. Los Angeleno


For some fans and assault survivors, grappling with Kobe Bryant’s legacy is complicated. In the aftermath of the deadly crash, social media lit up with conflicted feelings, of sympathy and grief but also pain and anger. Los Angeles Times

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Tijuana’s paramedics save lives in a city where doing so can mean risking their own. The Mexican border city has 13 ambulances for 1.8 million people. San Diego Union-Tribune


President Trump’s lawyers and House impeachment managers issued their closing arguments Monday, with Democrats arguing the Senate has a “duty” to convict Trump and the president’s legal team saying senators would “vindicate” the right to vote by leaving the matter to voters in November. Los Angeles Times

“Is there one among you who will say: ‘Enough’?” asked Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), telling GOP senators that even a single vote for conviction from one of them would make an important statement.
(Associated Press)

A state lawmaker is making a move to turn Pacific Gas & Electric into a public utility, in a potentially dramatic shift that would end decades of corporate control over California’s largest power company. State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) plans to introduce the legislation this week. Los Angeles Times


The Fresno Bee’s editorial board has again come out against Rep. Devin Nunes, endorsing the Central Valley Republican’s opponent Democrat Phil Arballo. The Bee did not recommend Nunes in 2016, but Nunes had previously received the paper’s recommendation in every campaign since he was first elected in 2002. Fresno Bee

Another top California oil regulator will step down amid continued probes. This comes after the state’s top oil regulator was fired in July. Desert Sun


Oakland’s safe RV parking lot will be further delayed by a court fight. The city plans to convert a private lot in West Oakland into a safe parking site for 60 or more mobile homes. San Francisco Chronicle

A woman was killed and five people were wounded when a man opened fire on a Greyhound bus traveling on Interstate 5 through Kern County. The bus was heading from L.A. to the Bay Area. Los Angeles Times


Here’s how coronavirus evacuees under quarantine in Riverside County are spending their days. The 195 Americans have been ordered to remain at March Air Reserve Base until Feb. 11. Orange County Register


Is it crazy to have a baby in San Francisco? A columnist goes through her pro/con list for having a baby where the cost of living is ludicrously high and other kids are few and far between. San Francisco Chronicle


Shake Shack has opened its first location in San Francisco. The new restaurant is the latest chapter in an aggressive two-year Bay Area expansion for the chain. San Francisco Chronicle

How to spend the “perfect” three-day weekend in San Diego, including rooftop bars and an app to navigate Balboa Park. Travel + Leisure

The Mt. Whitney permit lottery is open — but your chances of winning aren’t great. Los Angeles Times


Los Angeles: sunny, 64. San Diego: sunny, 62. San Francisco: sunny, 56. San Jose: sunny, 57. Sacramento: sunny, 58. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Bennett Mintz:

My family arrived in California from Plainfield, N.J., in late January 1948. Our first stop after crossing from Arizona was in Cardiff-by-the-Sea. We took two cabins in an older motel; in front were a few orange trees. My father picked an orange, ate it, and there was no going back to Jersey.


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

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.