Newsletter: The last-minute election bill on Gov. Newsom’s desk

Annette Kapple, 50, casts her vote in the June 2014 election.
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Feb. 7, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Earlier this week, we gave you the rundown on the upcoming California primary and how party registration might affect your ability to participate. (Unaffiliated voters can cast ballots in the Democratic presidential primary, but they must request a “crossover ballot” to do so. California‘s Republican presidential primary, however, is closed, meaning unaffiliated voters who show up to the polls on March 3 can’t cast their ballots in that primary.)

But a last-minute voting bill could change that. SB 207, the bill in question, was sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk on Thursday after passing both houses of the Legislature this week.

If signed by Newsom, the bill would allow voters to change their party preference or update their residence address without re-registering to vote. And they would be able to do this up until the polls close on election day, and in the two weeks leading up to it.


SB 207 is what’s called an “urgency statute,” which means that it would go into effect immediately if Newsom chooses to sign off on it. (Typically, state bills go into effect on Jan. 1 of the year after they are passed. The urgency statute requires a two-thirds majority vote in each house of the Legislature, instead of just a regular majority vote.)

The number of unaffiliated voters in California has surged in recent decades. A few years ago, independents actually surpassed Republicans to become the second-largest voting bloc in California for the first time in state history. They now account for more than one quarter of the state’s 20 million voters.

Beyond making it easier for independent voters to participate in the presidential primaries, proponents of the bill also say it could potentially reduce wait times at polls. Californians will be able to conditionally register to vote at any polling place or vote center on election day and during the two-week period before it for the first time this year, which could “significantly increase” foot traffic on election day, according to the Senate floor analysis. Under current rules, already-registered voters who want to update political party preference or address information at their polling place must first complete a new registration and then cast a provisional ballot. But if this bill passes, they wouldn’t need to re-register or use a provisional ballot — meaning less time and paperwork.

The bill received bipartisan support in the Assembly, but was opposed by nearly all of the Republican caucus in the state Senate, who raised concerns about eliminating procedural safeguards. “Although SB 207 provides some clarity to voters as to how they can change their address or party affiliation, it does not provide the necessary safeguards to ensure residents are voting in their correct districts,” state Senate minority leader Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) said in a statement.

This is the first bill of the year to reach Newsom’s desk. He previously vetoed a similar but broader proposal last year. A spokesman for the governor gave little hint at the Newsom’s state of mind while speaking with the San Francisco Chronicle, saying that “as is the case with all pending legislation, when it reaches the governor’s desk it will be evaluated on its merits.”

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


Political leaders at the local, state and federal levels are calling for actions that could directly or indirectly expand the responsibilities of cops in managing the tens of thousands of homeless people who live outdoors. But many rank-and-file officers are tired of being asked to be both social workers and enforcers, and top brass are equally critical of such suggestions, arguing that they aren’t equipped to be the front line of this crisis. Los Angeles Times


Los Angeles will host a public memorial Feb. 24 at Staples Center for Kobe Bryant and the eight others killed last month in a helicopter crash in Calabasas. The event will cap weeks of tributes across the city after the Jan. 26 crash. Los Angeles Times

The Obamas “don’t just casually go anywhere,” even the Oscars. The co-director of “American Factory,” the first film from the Obamas’ production company and a favorite to win best documentary, said the chances of the former first couple showing up on Sunday are slim to none. The Hollywood Reporter

Filming is booming, but some crews are leaving L.A. The issue is a shortage of studio space. Los Angeles Times

“Why Luis J. Rodriguez is perpetually on the run.” The former L.A. poet laureate has a new book and will be joining the Los Angeles Times Book Club on Feb. 15. Los Angeles Times

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Exulting in his impeachment acquittal, President Trump took a scorched-earth victory lap, unleashing his fury against those who tried to remove him from office while looking ahead to his reelection campaign. Los Angeles Times


Trump hailed Rep. Devin Nunes as an impeachment hero at an acquittal celebration. Nunes (R-Tulare) stood and waved as the president called him “the other side’s worst nightmare.” Fresno Bee

The Environmental Protection Agency’s top official in California has been abruptly removed from office. The former oil company spokesman and Trump appointee — who is perhaps best known for claiming to have coined the anti-Hillary Clinton “lock her up” chant — speculated he was terminated because of his congenial relationship with Democratic politicians. Los Angeles Times

The California Lottery is under fire for giving away $212,500 in Scratchers on “Ellen.” Lottery officials saw it as a publicity boon, but a whistleblower complaint filed by some lottery employees argues the agency’s giveaway of the tickets should be investigated as a “misuse of funds.” Los Angeles Times


A judge’s European vacation may force a mistrial in a major East Bay murder case: “One of the Contra Costa’s longest and most complex murder cases in recent memory may be in dire risk of reaching its abrupt end, and it all depends on whether the judge can convince her airline to postpone reservations on her planned vacation to Europe.” East Bay Times

This “false memory” expert has testified in hundreds of trials. Now she’s been hired by Harvey Weinstein. Los Angeles Times


A second child under coronavirus quarantine in Riverside has been hospitalized after developing a fever. They were tested for novel coronavirus and are awaiting results. (The first child returned to the base Wednesday after testing negative for the virus.) Los Angeles Times



As the number of homeless in Redding has grown, advocates say attitudes against unhoused people have grown progressively more hostile, with “criminalization, scorn and vigilantism.” Capital & Main

Employees at San Francisco’s renowned Tartine Bakery plan to unionize, a move that is extremely rare in the restaurant industry. San Francisco Chronicle

The Sonoma County sheriff had his department’s helicopter drop by the private winery Super Bowl party he was attending. “It’s no different than us going to a school and showing the helicopter to kids,” a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office said of the visit. Santa Rosa Press Democrat

The odds of being a kidney donor match for a spouse are exceedingly rare. But for an ailing school principal in Tulare County, his wife is more than just a compatible life partner — she’s a perfect donor match. Porterville Recorder

A sea lion pup found trying to cross 710 Freeway in Long Beach was given a ride in the back seat of a CHP car. The pup was later taken to the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro. Long Beach Press-Telegram


Los Angeles: sunny, 70. San Diego: sunny, 66. San Francisco: partly cloudy, 60. San Jose: sunny, 68. Sacramento: sunny, 65. More weather is here.



Today’s California memory comes from Irma Gruen Wolfson:

I grew up in Ventura, but every year starting in junior high, my parents and my sister and I would drive south on Highway 1 (this was before major freeway expansions) to downtown Los Angeles to the old Biltmore Hotel to attend the Civic Light Opera productions of touring Broadway shows like “My Fair Lady” and “Oklahoma!” And on almost every trip, I would get carsick as we approached Zuma Beach. Oddly enough, I never got sick on the way home. Perhaps I was tired, or still under the spell of these classic musicals.

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.