Voters wait to cast their ballots outside the Shasta County Elections Department on Nov. 3, 2020.
Voters wait to cast their ballots outside the Shasta County Elections Department on Nov. 3, 2020. Photo by Mike Chapman, Record Searchlight/USA Today Network via Reuters

From CalMatters Capitol reporter Sameea Kamal:  

Normally an election to set up a fire district and fill one school board seat in a county with just 112,000 registered voters wouldn’t get statewide attention. 

But the Nov. 7 election in Shasta County is far from normal and will be closely watched — including by the Secretary of State’s office. 

That county’s Board of Supervisors has been embroiled in a series of battles between its conservative and more moderate members — all of whom are Republican. In January, the board voted 3-2 to cancel its contract with Dominion Voting for ballot-counting machines, which were the focus of unproven allegations about election fraud. The cancellation has prompted outcry at board meetings and a recall effort against Supervisor Kevin Crye, who recall proponents say was the swing vote in the decision.

In response to the contract termination, the Legislature passed a bill — which went into effect as soon as Gov. Gavin Newsom signed it on Oct. 4  — that limits hand-counting of votes to narrow circumstances, none of which apply to Shasta County’s upcoming election. The bill prohibits a manual vote count in regular elections with more than 1,000 registered voters, or special elections with more than 5,000 registered voters.  

And while early voting has been underway for the election since Oct. 9, some voter groups are raising the red flag that the county may not comply — and are urging Secretary of State Shirley Weber to enforce the law.

The letter — sent last week by six voting rights and good government groups, including California Common Cause and the League of Women Voters of California — notes that Shasta County Board of Supervisors Chairperson Patrick Henry Jones made “various public statements indicating an intention not to follow” the new law. The groups say that even if the county does comply, there is “a high risk of voter confusion, distrust, and disenfranchisement due to the spread of misinformation and disinformation.”

They’re calling on the Secretary of State’s office to: 

  • Remind supervisors that Shasta County is required to follow federal and state laws in conducting elections;
  • Arrange for staff to monitor the Nov. 7 and March 5 elections;
  • Provide assistance to the county’s registrar of voters. 

While her office didn’t confirm whether it would send staff to monitor the final day of voting, Secretary of State Shirley Weber did send a letter Friday to the Shasta board to debunk the claim that the election isn’t subject to the new law because it was “grandfathered in.” 

  • Weber: “Such a claim is wholly without merit and has no basis in law.… I expect that you will uphold your obligation to comply with the law. Failing that, my office stands ready to take any actions necessary.”

Shasta County Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen said early voting has proceeded without incident. She said her office was pleasantly surprised to see the advocates’ letter: “We think a lot more sunshine always helps.” 

Jones told CalMatters he plans to continue discussing legal action with the board of supervisors after a law firm the county initially hired affirmed that the state law applies to Shasta County. But any further legal action is unlikely to happen before the Nov. 7 election, in which state-approved Hart tabulation machines are being used.

Still, Jones referred to them as “unauthorized, breach-of-contract Hart machines,” saying the board was led to believe the machines had no electronic tabulation capabilities. He’s focused instead on the March primary and said he plans to discuss future legal action at a supervisors meeting Tuesday.

Mary Rickert, one of the supervisors who was in favor of retaining the Dominion machines, said the concerns raised by the voter advocacy groups were legitimate. “I was very pleased that they brought it to the attention of Sacramento, because, quite honestly, I do think there is reason for concern,” she said.

She said she was also concerned about the safety of the registrar of voters and the staff.

  • Rickert: “It’s been a volatile situation for a long time. I am concerned about the welfare of these citizens of Shasta County — the people that work at the clerk’s office.” 

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Crime on the 2024 agenda

Local business advocates hold a strike event aimed at stopping business closures and supporting public safety in Oakland on Sept. 26, 2023. Photo by Loren Elliott for CalMatters

Even in progressive California, the pendulum swings on crime policy, partly based on the public’s mood. 

This past session, the Democratic-controlled Legislature got a little tougher in some cases, with some timely intervention by Gov. Newsom and Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas on a bill to increase punishments for repeat child sex traffickers.

And looking toward the 2024 session that starts in January, there are already more bills in the hopper to address crime, or at least the perception of crime out of control.

Last week, Sen. Scott Wiener unveiled legislation designed to make it easier to make charges stick against car thieves. Under current state law, prosecutors must prove that a car door was locked, even if a suspect breaks a window and even if a tourist must return to testify. The San Francisco Democrat’s bill would make proof of forced entry enough to prove the crime

And Newsom, San Francisco Mayor London Breed and the city’s police chief and district attorney are joining forces to begin investigating some fatal opioid overdoses as potential homicide cases against drug dealers.   

  • Breed, in a statement Friday from the governor’s office: “Fentanyl is deadlier than any drug we’ve ever seen on our streets. We must treat the trafficking and sale of fentanyl more severely and people must be put on notice that pushing this drug could lead to homicide charges.”

Also last week, Rivas announced a select committee to combat retail crime, after a string of high-profile mobs ransacking luxury stores, as well as more pedestrian thefts at pharmacies. Both kinds of incidents are sometimes caught on video that quickly goes viral. The committee plans to convene hearings starting this fall and continuing into next year.

  • Rivas, in a statement: “Californians have had enough of these smash-and-grab crimes and shameless shoplifting incidents. They’re appalling and affect everyone. The Assembly understands we must do more to address root causes, protect businesses owners and fight criminal activity.”   

On some counts, the cold, hard facts do back up rising public concern. In a detailed National Retail Foundation survey, retailers say that Los Angeles is the metro area most affected by organized retail crime, followed by San Francisco-Oakland. Sacramento is tied for No. 7 on the list. 

Also, a new Public Policy Institute of California summary shows that violent crime jumped during the COVID pandemic by 13.5% from 2019 to 2022 and car thefts skyrocketed 32%. Between 2021 and 2022, violent crime increased 5.7% statewide and in 36 of the state’s 58 counties.

Newsom on clean energy in China and CA

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, right, meets with Zheng Shanjie, head of China's National Development and Reform Commission, unseen, in Beijing, Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023. Newsom also met with China's senior most diplomat Wang Yi on Wednesday and displayed a brief moment of friendliness that stands in sharp contrast to the dialogue between the U.S. and China in recent years. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, right, meets with Zheng Shanjie, head of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, unseen, in Beijing on Oct. 25, 2023. Photo by Ng Han Guan, AP Photo

“Clean energy” was the top agenda item for the last few stops of Newsom’s international trip, which wrapped up Sunday in China. 

Wind energy makes up about 7.5% of China’s total power generation, and the governor visited the country’s largest offshore wind farm, located in Jiangsu province, touting the state’s own wind ambitions. California hopes to be the first Western state with offshore wind, and Newsom’s administration envisions harnessing enough wind energy to power 25 million homes by 2045. 

The governor then traveled to Shanghai riding a high-speed rail. Though Newsom’s efforts to develop a high-speed rail that runs through the Central Valley have been met with increased costs and delayed timelines, the trip highlighted an announcement the governor made Friday regarding Caltrans and its approval of $192 million in funds for public transportation projects. 

The projects mostly relate to clean energy and making public transit more affordable, such as electrifying bus routes in San Fernando Valley, installing electric vehicle charging stations in low-income San Mateo County communities and providing free transit tickets for some seniors and people with disabilities in San Francisco.

The last leg of the tour in Shanghai included meeting the city’s mayor and a Tesla factory. China plays a major role in California’s goal to reach all new zero-emission vehicles by 2035, and Tesla considers that plant one of its most productive electric vehicle factories.

  • Newsom, in a statement: “California’s partnership with Shanghai spans decades…. California is proud to build on this tremendous partnership with Shanghai to accelerate climate action — cleaning up our ports, cutting emissions from shipping and speeding up our transition to electric vehicles.”

But not everyone applauded the visit: California Labor Federation’s president Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher described Newsom’s factory tour as “a choice,” and flagged Tesla’s anti-union practices as well as the governor’s recent veto to grant workers on strike the ability to collect unemployment benefits. 

No training for racial bias in maternal care

A medical personnel working on her computer in the corridor of Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital in Hollister on March 30, 2023. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local
A medical personnel at Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital in Hollister on March 30, 2023. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

With reports of poor experiences with medical professionals, difficulties to convince doctors that they are in pain and general mistreatment due to their race and other factors, Black women are three times more likely to die during or immediately after pregnancy. And a law that aims to help curb that dismal statistic in California is failing to do much about it.

As CalMatters’ health reporter Kristen Hwang explains, an investigation by the state Department of Justice published Friday found that of the more than 200 hospitals surveyed, most are largely ignoring a 2019 law that requires them to train perinatal care providers on unconscious bias in medicine and racial disparities in maternal deaths. 

According to the report:

  • About 76% began training employees by August 2022 but had not completed training.
  • Two hospitals did not fully train any staff
  • Nearly a third began training only after the Department of Justice contacted them.
  • 13 did not provide the department with any information.

Attorney General Rob Bonta said Friday that the training matters, and recommended lawmakers adopt additional regulations to strengthen the law, including setting clear deadlines for compliance and introducing penalties for noncompliance.

  • Bonta: “We need to listen to this data. It’s screaming at us to do something. Listen to these women and make substantial transformative change before another patient is hurt, or worse.”

For more details on California’s Black maternal death rate, read Kristen’s story.

CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Another wet winter is on the way, a warning for California to become more proactive on flood protection and water storage

CalMatters events: The next event is Nov. 15 about California’s toxic waste problem and how to fix it. Register here.

Other things worth your time:

Some stories may require a subscription to read.

Federal appeals court keeps CA assault weapons ban in force // Reuters

Cruise takes driverless robotaxis off the roads nationwide // The San Francisco Standard

Newsom has an ambitious plan for gun violence, but it isn’t going anywhere // Politico

Insurance commissioner accused of drafting fix with lobbyists // The Mercury News

Dads drive growth in CA paid family leave program // California Healthline

CA psychedelic legalization bill in jeopardy after Alaska Airlines pilot’s arrest // Politico

PG&E electric bills soar far faster than brutally high inflation rate // The Mercury News

Arrowhead bottled water fight headed to court // Los Angeles Times

California’s greenhouse gas emissions rose last year // The Sacramento Bee

CA chief justice says COVID improved access to state courts // San Francisco Chronicle

Phil Isenberg, influential Assemblymember in 1980s and ’90s, dies at 84 // Capitol Weekly 

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Lynn La is the WhatMatters newsletter writer. Prior to joining CalMatters, she developed thought leadership at an edtech company and was a senior editor at CNET. She also covered public health at The Sacramento...