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Newsletter: A flood of quickly voted ballots in California

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Whatever the reason — maybe it’s a presidential race where minds are already made up or fear about ballots getting counted on time — something unprecedented has happened in the first few days of voting in California.

With three weeks to go before election day, a surprising number of Californians have already made up their minds and mailed in their ballots. What we won’t know for some time is whether the early rush tapers off and ends up being little more than a shift or whether a record number of the state’s voters are going to take part in the 2020 election.

More than 279,000 votes in the first week

While the timing varied a bit by county, Oct. 5 marked the official first day for California elections officials to mail out some 21.3 million ballots, the first time that voting by mail has been extended to every registered voter. And there’s been plenty of chatter among political watchers about when those ballots will be cast.

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The early numbers are nothing short of astounding. Using information collected from county elections offices across the state, a statewide ballot tracker created by the research firm Political Data Inc. reports more than 279,000 ballots had already been received by the end of the weekend. That means more than 1 of every 100 California voters has already participated in one of the most consequential elections in U.S. history.

Or for a more national comparison: In a matter of days, more Californians have voted than President Trump’s margin of victory in 2016 in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida combined.

And speaking of 2016 — at this same point in time four years ago, only 13,000 completed ballots had been turned in. What we’ve seen in just a handful of days is more than 20 times larger. Even when accounting for the fact that more ballots were sent out this time, the influx of ballots is far beyond the usual.

The early voters are hardly representative of California as a whole, according to the company’s report. Fifty-six percent of the ballots were cast by Democrats and 70% of the voters are age 50 or older. More than two-thirds of the early votes came from white Californians. Those numbers, though, will change and the most recent couple of days produced ballots from a more diverse electorate.

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Political campaigns have been closely tracking which voters have already cast ballots for several cycles. (One common refrain from voters is that they thankfully stop getting mailers and text messages once the ballot is received at the county elections office.) Candidates pay companies like Political Data to know where to redouble their efforts to maximize turnout in a close election.

The early signs suggest getting Californians to show up for this election, at least for now, isn’t a problem.

Trump, Barrett in the spotlight

Both Trump and his choice for the Supreme Court, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, are ending their public quarantine periods, so to speak, this week.

After a short but boisterous event outside the White House on Saturday, Trump insisted his COVID-19 infection is no longer an impediment to resuming his reelection campaign schedule — going so far as to declare himself “immune” during a weekend appearance on Fox News.

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It’s a crucial moment for the president, who stopped all of his television and radio advertising in three states and substantially reduced it in four others in recent weeks, unable to match a surge in spending by his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden.

And it will be a very big week for Barrett, who has been out of sight since her White House debut event that remains the focus of questions about recent coronavirus infections throughout official Washington.

An early release of her prepared remarks before the Senate Judiciary Committee shows that Barrett will say that “policy decisions and value judgments” should be made by elected officials, not the courts.

There’s a lot to watch for in these just-before-the-election hearings, including the roles to be played by California’s senators, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris.

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National lightning round

— Trump has been setting the stage to use social media to say the election was stolen from him. Why isn’t Silicon Valley doing more about it?

— Even the president’s own advisors are worried about fading support from the nation’s oldest voters.

— Latinos have become an increasingly important constituency in North Carolina. Although they make up only 4% of registered voters, they could tip the balance in the hotly contested state.

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— The Biden campaign has mostly done virtual outreach because of the pandemic, but union members and others have moved to Arizona to knock on doors.

— A federal judge has blocked Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s order dramatically reducing places where voters could drop off mail ballots during early voting in the November election.

— A federal judge in Pennsylvania threw out a lawsuit filed by the Trump campaign over the state’s poll-watching law and mail-in ballots.

‘The first angry man’

As California voters consider a major change to the most well-known ballot proposition in state history, a closer look at its colorful, controversial proponent airs this week on public television in Southern California.

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“The First Angry Man” chronicles the story of Howard Jarvis from his days as an unsuccessful political candidate to the anti-tax earthquake that was Proposition 13.

“I think I’m the only man in California to have the guts to do it,” Jarvis says in archival footage found by the film’s producers. (By the way, who’s the second-most talked-about guy in the movie, the yin to Jarvis’ yang? That would be then-Gov. Jerry Brown.)

The hourlong look at Jarvis and the roots of California’s tax revolt airs on Tuesday night and again on Thursday on KCET. Its creators knew well that there are shades of the Proposition 13 fight in the politics of today.

“As filmmakers, we never go into a historical film thinking that it’s only about the past,” director Jason Cohn said. “If a story doesn’t talk to us about our present-day, there’s no point in spending all the time.”

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Cohn said the project began more than a decade ago during the state’s fiscal meltdown — a time when, as it was in 1978, the public had soured on its elected government.

“Howard Jarvis liked to say that government was supposed to be ‘of, for and by’ the people,” Cohn said in an email. “But he was also the guy who first began turning us against ourselves by convincing us that the government was the problem and not part of the solution.”

Today’s essential California politics

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s call for the Legislature to ban hydraulic fracturing by oil and gas companies has met with skepticism by lawmakers who say it will require a lot more from Newsom than just words.

— Newsom signed an executive order last week to protect nearly a third of California’s land and coastal waters as part of the state’s effort to fight climate change.

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— California’s new unemployment benefits application system is experiencing long wait times, and tens of thousands of jobless people who signed in did not complete the process in its first six days.

— Sixteen years after California voters approved selling bonds for stem cell research, supporters of those efforts are asking taxpayers for a new infusion of cash with Proposition 14.

— Two years ago, Californians resoundingly rejected a ballot initiative that would have expanded rent control in the state. Supporters of that measure are back with Proposition 21 and say there are some changes that might make the idea more palatable to voters this time.

— Uber customers found opening the app revealed a pop-up warning that the defeat of Proposition 22 would increase wait times and prices. And to move forward with ordering a ride, users had to tap the “confirm” button on the message.

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— A growing national discussion about inequities in the criminal justice system has focused new attention on Proposition 25, a referendum on the November ballot to decide whether California’s money bail system is unjust and should be replaced.

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