The closer the November election gets, the tenser California’s political climate becomes.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Attorney General Xavier Becerra — both Democrats — sent a cease-and-desist letter Monday to the California Republican Party, demanding it remove unofficial ballot drop boxes set up outside of churches and gun shops in several counties. The news comes just three days after the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association sued Padilla for awarding a $35 million voter-education contract to a public-affairs firm tied to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign — despite the state controller’s assertion that Padilla hasn’t identified the budgetary authority to do so.

The legal actions could further undermine already-low confidence in the integrity of the upcoming election — and of the public officials managing it. About 41% of California voters are concerned about the U.S. Postal Service’s ability to deliver mail-in ballots on time, and 82% fear that many Americans won’t respect the election outcome, according to a recent poll from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies.

The legal back-and-forth could also heighten confusion around the Golden State’s first all-mail election. Many Californians unfamiliar with the process will be voting by mail for the first time, contending not only with some ballots ending up in the wrong place but also contradictory messaging about how to lawfully submit their ballot.

  • Padilla: “Unauthorized unofficial ballot drop boxes are not permitted by state law in the state of California. And to misrepresent unofficial boxes as official further misleads voters and erodes the public trust.”
  • Hector Barajas, spokesman for the California Republican Party: “We are going to continue on with our ballot harvesting programs. (Democrats) set up the rules. They set up the chessboard. So we are operating within the rules and the chessboard that they set up for us.”

For more on the legal ins and outs of the GOP’s drop boxes, check out this piece from CalMatters’ Ben Christopher.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Monday night, California had 850,028 confirmed coronavirus cases and 16,572 deaths from the virus, according to a CalMatters tracker.

Also: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. And we’re tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county.


The gig-economy titans bankrolling Prop. 22 — which would keep drivers as independent contractors — have a secret weapon: your data profile. Details from Ben Christopher.


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Other stories you should know

1. PG&E shutoffs likely

The sun peeks through a PG&E transmission line on Nov. 12, 2018, three miles west of Pulga, Calif. Photo by Karl Mondon, Bay Area News Group

PG&E will likely shut off power in portions of 43 Northern California counties this week to mitigate fire risk amid powerful Diablo winds of up to 50 miles per hour, the utility said Monday — just a few days after Cal Fire seized some of its equipment as part of an investigation into the cause of the deadly Zogg Fire. The shutoffs would likely start Wednesday and last one or two days, with the winds posing the greatest threat in the mountains of northeastern Napa and Sonoma counties, where they could stoke the destructive Glass Fire.

A date I’m marking on my calendar: Oct. 26, when PG&E is required to provide a federal judge with more information about its potential role in the Zogg Fire.

2. State closing inmate firefighting camps

The Pine Grove fire camp is the last juvenile inmate fire camp in California. Image courtesy of Fireboys documentary

California will close eight inmate firefighting camps by the end of the year, state officials announced Friday — an action that raises serious questions about not only the state’s plans to combat ever-larger fires with already overstretched firefighting crews, but also the ethics of its reliance on cheap prison labor. Some have likened the practice to a legalized form of slavery. Inmate firefighters usually earn between $2 and $5 a day, though their work reduces their sentences and many youth inmates say the fire camps changed their lives for the better. Other incarcerated workers have been producing face masks, hand sanitizer and furniture amid the pandemic for an hourly rate of 8 cents to $1, though the products are later sold to state agencies for millions of dollars, a recent Los Angeles Times investigation found.

California’s prison population has dropped by nearly 22,000 since the onset of the pandemic, according to the Sacramento Bee. Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans to close a Tracy prison within a year.

3. California’s budget breaking point looms

Regal Cinemas in Oakland’s Jack London Square remains closed due to the pandemic on Sept. 9, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

It’s looking increasingly unlikely that the federal government will pass another coronavirus stimulus package by Thursday, California’s deadline to reverse $11 billion in budget cuts. Without more federal funding, the Golden State will face a projected $8.7 billion budget deficit next year — forcing state officials to either raise taxes or slash services that overwhelmingly benefit the poor, CalMatters’ Lauren Hepler reports. The shortfall could also widen rifts between Newsom and lawmakers, who are still sparring over how to spend federal relief money allocated to California this spring. And more financial bleeding is on the horizon, even if the federal government does send another round of $1,200 stimulus checks: Both California’s eviction moratorium and federal unemployment benefits for gig workers are set to expire this winter.


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Upcoming events

CalMatters is hosting “Props to You” events — virtual Q&As for you to ask all of your burning questions about the 12 propositions on California’s November ballot. Register hereEach event runs from 6-7pm.

Oct. 21, 5-6:30pm: Rebuilding and Resiliency: How We Need to Handle Wildfires From Now On. In this two-part virtual event, CalMatters examines California wildfires through the lens of Rebuilding Paradise, a new documentary from Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard. Register | Submit Your Questions


CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California officials routinely and illegally misuse taxpayer funds for political campaigns, and only one agency tries to stop it.

Resources key to reopening: Debates on when to reopen schools in California center on different assessments of COVID-19 risk, but the answer may lie in how we vote in November, argues Alicia Riley of the San Diego County COVID-19 Equity Taskforce.

Federal rollbacks threaten rivers: The Environmental Protection Agency has severely limited states’ and tribes’ authority to protect rivers, writes Ashley Overhouse of the South Yuba River Citizens League.


Other things worth your time

All that could burn: Life as a Californian during the 2020 fire season. // New Yorker

Meet the amateur air pollution trackers mapping Western wildfire smoke. // Bloomberg

Kamala Harris participates virtually in first day of Amy Coney Barrett hearings. // San Francisco Chronicle

California Republicans, already a minority, could lose another 4 Senate seats. // Sacramento Bee

Stanford doctors among leaders of global anti-lockdown movement. // Mercury News

California regulators launch review of long, deadly delays in Los Angeles County specialty care. // Los Angeles Times

Why California car regulations have become a Minnesota election issue. // Minnesota Post

Oakland Zoo gets two more orphaned mountain lion cubs rescued from Zogg Fire. // San Francisco Chronicle


See you tomorrow.

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Emily Hoeven writes the daily WhatMatters newsletter for CalMatters. Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco Business...