What changes will California voters see in 2024 election?

Your guide to California policy and politics
Sameea Kamal BY Sameea Kamal September 20, 2023
Presented by New California Coalition and California Water Service

What changes will California voters see in 2024 election?

The 2024 primary election is less than six months away, and, thanks to a series of measures over the last few years, the process will look a little different for voters. 

For one, it’s the first presidential primary in which everyone can vote by mail. Because California’s top-two primary system — in which the two top vote-getters regardless of party move on to the November general election — doesn’t apply to presidential primaries, voters registered as Democrats or Republicans will receive a two-part ballot in Feburary: the first includes the presidential candidates, and the second lists all the other races and measures.

But there are also several bills from the just-adjourned legislative session that aim to make voting a little bit easier. Among the most prominent is Assembly Bill 421, by Assemblymember Isaac Bryan, that clarifies language on referendums and that Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law earlier this month. 

But 18 other election-related bills await the governor’s decision. Among them:

  • AB 545, which requires all counties to provide curbside voting for people with disabilities, along with other increased accessibility measures. That’s one of six bills authored by Assemblymember Gail Pellerin — a former county clerk who took over as chairperson of the Assembly’s elections committee when Bryan was named majority leader.
  • Pellerin also authored AB 969 — in direct response to Shasta County’s move to get rid of Dominion voting machines and hand count ballots — which requires machines for most elections
  • SB 77 by Sen. Tom Umberg, allows election officials to reach out by phone, email or text message to verify voters’ signatures instead of just through mail. AB 626, also by Pellerin, would allow people to return their vote-by-mail ballot in person, without an envelope, so it can be counted right away.

While SB 77 and AB 626 aim to help election officials and voters, as a bonus, they could also speed up the vote-counting process. 

That’s something Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, believes is an important issue for the state to address.   

  • Alexander: “Long vote counts provide the opportunity for campaigns who see their Election Night margins shrink to raise doubts about the accuracy of the process and undermine public confidence. Long vote counts also delay the ability of the winning candidate to prepare to take office and serve his or her voters, putting those constituents at a disadvantage.”  

Making voting simpler could also get more people to register to vote — Tuesday was National Voter Registration Day — and increase participation. 

In the November 2022 election, more than 11.1 million Californians voted, but 26.9 million were eligible. In the last presidential election, in 2020, 17.8 million voted, of 25.1 million eligible. 

For the record: This item has been updated to more precisely describe the mail ballots that registered Democrats and Republicans will receive for the March primary.


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1 Are prison rehab programs working?

A panel discussing rehabilitation over incarceration at the CalMatters Studio in Sacramento on Sept. 19, 2023.
CalMatters investigative reporter Byrhonda Lyons, far left, moderates a panel discussion on rehabilitation over incarceration at the CalMatters Studio in Sacramento on Sept. 19, 2023. Photo by Rahul Lal for CalMatters

From CalMatters’ Shreya Agrawal:

Gov. Newsom doubled down this year on his bid to bring more rehabilitation programs into California prisons when he announced his plan to refashion San Quentin State Prison as a hub for those services.

It followed his moves to build out rehab programs at other prisons, and the state’s growing investment in reentry services for parolees.

But are any of these programs actually working?

Several experts tackled that question in a CalMatters panel discussion Tuesday moderated by investigative reporter Byrhonda Lyons.

More than 40% of people who are released from prison in California are reconvicted within three years of their release, according to data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. That number has not changed substantially over time. 

  • Orlando Sanchez Zavala, a panelist and corrections analyst at the Legislative Analyst’s Office: “How you measure rehabilitation is a key way to define it. One perspective is reducing people’s ability to commit criminal offenses after being released from prison. Another one is providing them with the needs that they have that originally led them to incarceration.”

But sometimes the state just doesn’t have the data. Lyons earlier this year dug into California’s single largest rehabilitation program for parolees, Specialized Treatment for Optimized Programming. She found in part that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation had not collected recidivism data on the program or evaluated whether participants eventually landed jobs.

Several panelists encouraged a broader view of rehabilitation to account for changes beyond another conviction. Panelist Kimberly Richman, chairperson of the sociology department at the University of San Francisco, noted the corrections department defines rehabilitation as a change mindset and restoration of one’s health. 

  • Jesse Vasquez, executive director of Friends of San Quentin News: “Incarceration for the past 170 years has been about locking them up and throwing away the key. This is the first time ever that we’re finally taking a chance on investing in the people inside. But guess what, if you don’t give it enough time, you’re not going to know. And there’s already so much criticism in this space. That is discouraging for the incarcerated to hear that society doesn’t care. They don’t want to fund this. They don’t want to support this.” 
  • Collette Carroll, executive director and co-founder of California Reentry Institute: “We talk about transformation. Transformation is internal. Our philosophy is we have to help somebody transform the inside, they have to heal. Our first day in class, I want them to repeat after me, ‘I am not my crime,’ because society has labeled them as what they’ve done. We’ve got to help them understand they have some self worth and once you give somebody self worth they will be different.”

Catch up on video: If you missed the session, you can watch it here.

Previous events: Here’s our coverage of the prior panel discussions in Sacramento: in May on homeownership, in June on police shootings and in August on electric vehicles and inequality. And find out about three more events in October.

2 Truckers to Newsom: Sign the bill

A protester holds a sign on the steps of the state Capitol calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign bill AB316, which would require a human operator in all autonomous vehicles in Sacramento on Sept. 19, 2023. Photo by Fred Greaves for CalMatters
A protester holds a sign calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign a bill that would require a human back-up driver in autonomous trucks during a rally at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Sept. 19, 2023. Photo by Fred Greaves for CalMatters

Humans and workers — or “robots and greedy tech companies?” 

That’s the choice Gov. Gavin Newsom has to make, according to Teamsters who rallied at the state Capitol Tuesday for a bill regulating driverless trucks.

The union members are urging the governor to sign Assembly Bill 316, which was authored by Democratic Assemblymembers Cecilia Aguiar-Curry of Davis and Laura Friedman of Burbank, and garnered bipartisan support as it passed the Legislature last week. 

But the Newsom administration has strongly hinted that he will veto the bill

The bill requires one person to be present in a driverless truck in case of emergencies — a move that the industry says would effectively ban autonomous trucks before the technology is even in use. 

But truck drivers at the Capitol said the bill would protect jobs.

  • Alex Sunglao, a member of Teamsters Local 439: “What are the drivers going to do once the AI takes over? I’ve been doing this for 23 years. What am I going to do? I’m getting old. Don’t tell me you’re going to put me in the warehouse.” 

They also said it’s unclear who would be held liable in the event of an accident caused by a driverless truck. 

  • Carlos Moreno, also in Local 439: “Who are they going to blame? The AI? I think, blame Newsom for delivering that s–it. I’m sorry for my French, but that’s what it is.”  

But the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association argues that driverless vehicles would address a truck driver shortage and prevent driver fatigue that can be harmful, and even fatal. Jeff Farrah, the association’s executive director, wrote in the Orange County Register that the Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Highway Patrol are still writing rules “and yet the California Legislature is upending the process.”  

What happens if Newsom vetoes the bill? Jason Rabinowitz, president of Teamsters Joint Council 7, told CalMatters: “I wont say much about what our plans are if he vetoes it, but I will say that our fight to protect and save our jobs from the robot trucks will continue.”

3 Community college students in need

The Rotary Club of Oakland passes out free food to the students at Laney College in Oakland on Aug. 30, 2023.
The Rotary Club of Oakland passes out free food to the students at Laney College in Oakland on Aug. 30, 2023. Photo by Semantha Norris, CalMatters

From CalMatters community college reporter Adam Echelman:

A growing number of community college students are homeless according to a survey released Tuesday by a task force of community college leaders and the RP Group, a research organization. In 2019, the last time the state released survey results about housing and food access for students, it found that 19% experienced homelessness in the previous year. 

Now, it’s 24%. 

The rise in homelessness reinforces how important— and urgent — the problem is, said Larry Galizio, president and CEO of the Community College League of California. He said the numbers aren’t surprising, however. 

Galizio: “In community colleges, we serve the lowest income students.”

State lawmakers have invested more than $180 million since 2021 to support community college students’ basic needs, such as food and shelter. “There’s work to be done clearly but those dollars have been helpful,” said Galizio. 

Every campus now offers some level of services, though they aren’t always easy to find. A third of colleges missed the state’s deadline to set up a single “basic needs” center on campus, CalMatters reported.  

Other findings from the survey:

  • 9 in 10 single parents at community college are struggling to keep their homes, often because they struggle to pay rent or utilities; 
  • More than one quarter of students said that in the past 30 days they had felt hungry but did not eat because they couldn’t afford food;
  • The highest rates of homelessness is in the region encompassing San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties;
  • Black, Native, LGBTQ+ students and students previously convicted of a crime struggled to access food and housing at the highest rates. 

As campuses continue to expand their food pantries and housing services, they are also registering students for public benefits. The survey found that students who struggled to afford food in 2023 were twice as likely to receive CalFresh, the state’s food stamps programs, than in 2019. 


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: With a new leader at the helm, California’s labor unions achieved major gains in this year’s legislative session, even though only 17% of the state’s workers belong to unions.

Here’s why supporters of a caste discrimination bill are on a hunger strike, writes Prem Pariyar, an activist against caste discrimination. 


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

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Regulator says Arrowhead must stop bottling water from SoCal spring // Sacramento Bee 

Biden nominee with hearing disability confirmed to CA federal court // Bloomberg Law

Why highly sought nurses are moving to California // Los Angeles Times

CalPERS investment chief’s sports deals didn’t win over staff before exit // Bloomberg Law

Key issue in Google trial: How big is its data advantage? // New York Times

Are desalination pods on the ocean floor an answer to drought? // Los Angeles Times

Ron DeSantis swings at Kevin McCarthy to try to hurt Trump // Politico

Are prefabricated ADUs an answer to affordable housing shortage? // Los Angeles Times

Cisco will lay off hundreds of workers in October // San Francisco Standard

See you tomorrow


Tips, insight or feedback? Email sameea@calmatters.org.

Follow me on Twitter: @sameeakamal

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