2020 just gets curiouser and curiouser. With the shocking news that the president of the United States tested positive for the coronavirus, questions abound about what might happen to the Nov. 3 elections. As of now, Election Day will be held as usual. But, warns the Yes on Prop 21 coalition, beware of dirty tricks and lies being spread by greedy billionaires to foment confusion and suppress the vote through egregious propaganda. But the top of the ticket is not the only race that matters. California candidates and creators of down ballot initiatives such as Proposition 21, the Rental Affordability Act, are counting on voters to mail in their ballots or drop them off at voting centers or mask up and walk in to cast that precious ballot in person.
Prop 21 is the statewide ballot measure that puts limits on unfair, sky-high rent increases, reins in corporate landlord greed, and prevents homelessness. Top experts at USC, UCLA, and UC Berkeley agree that sensible rent limits are key for stabilizing California’s housing affordability crisis. That’s why U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, labor and civil rights icon Dolores Huerta, Congressmembers Maxine Waters, Karen Bass and Barbara Lee, the California Democratic Party, and the Los Angeles Times, among many others, have thrown their full support behind Prop 21.
The Yes on 21 campaign has been holding tele-town halls and posting updated information on the billionaire corporate landlords funding the opposition, as well as numerous stories about why important organizations such as the California Nurses Association have endorsed Prop 21 and the California Democratic Party, which deems the initiative an urgently needed priority, especially with so many unemployed facing eviction during the COVID-19 crisis.
Recently, Courage California and ACLU Northern California (both of which have endorsed Prop 21) joined Black Women for Wellness, Common Cause, the California Native Vote Project, and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) for a virtual voter education town hall (see video here).
Political Data, Inc recently reported that 83% of eligible California voters are registered to vote.
“’Your power is your vote’ is Courage California institute’s initiative to support young people, people of color, and all high potential voters to register and vote with confidence,” says Communications Director Jay Chotirmal. “We especially want to reach voters in the Central Valley, Inland Empire, Orange County, San Diego, and Los Angeles areas….We all deserve to live in a world where everyone can easily find information about decisions that impact our communities. But right now, we are flooded with misinformation that is meant to keep us from exercising our democratic rights, both at the ballot box and in the streets.”
Chotirmal notes that “there are a bunch of races and ballot propositions that will be decided by a few thousand votes this year. So, we can’t take even one vote for granted together.” Courage’s site has a Ballot Tracker that lets you know when you should receive your ballot — on or shortly after Monday, Oct.5 — then after you mail it, “allows you to track your ballot on its way back to your County election official to be received and counted,” he says.
The voter registration deadline is Oct.19.
The deadline to vote in person and mail in your ballot is midnight on Nov. 3.
The California Secretary of State website has all this information, as well, including more information about ballot drop off locations. Regional county clerks, including the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder have “how-to” information and maps.
But there’s more to know. If someone has been evicted prior to the election, for instance, they can still vote. “Persons experiencing homelessness can register and vote in all 50 states,” according to Nonprofit Vote. “It is recommended homeless registrants list a shelter address as their voting address where they could receive mail. Alternatively, homeless registrants may denote a street corner or a park as their residence, in lieu of a traditional home address. The federal voter registration form and many state forms provide a space for this purpose.”
The Courage California tele-town hall also discussed how to reach voters who may not even know they can vote and those for whom there are huge obstacles to voting such as precarious financial conditions that could lead to housing issues.
Common Cause California’s Kiyana Asemanfar discussed a new report on the difficulty of accessing the ballot by low propensity voters, voters with limited English proficiency, and voters confused by changes with the election system. Two key takeaways were the importance of trusted messengers and the large role community organizations close to family and friends and traditional and ethic media play in educating voters about how to vote.
Chrissie Castro of the California Native Vote Project emphasized the tremendous barriers for indigenous people to voting, including not being able to access voting centers due to COVID-19 restrictions at reservation border crossings.
“It’s a very frightening time and there’s so much that’s at stake,” she says. “And all the while, we are suffering, as we all are. But we’re hearing from community members that whether it’s a loss of job or even worse, the loss of life — there were a lot of tribal members that are a part of the devastation from the wildfires. It just really feels like there’s so much at stake and so much compounding that’s preventing us from actually being able to vote.”
Nourbese Flint says Black Women for Wellness has a voter education project that includes explaining why voting matters.
“People only try to steal things that have value and people are trying to steal your vote to right now,” she says. “People wouldn’t be working that hard if it didn’t have any value, right?”
ACLU/NorCal’s Ashley Morris notes that while obviously there are eligibility requirements like citizenship and age, “but the only people who can’t vote because of conviction are people who are currently in federal prison serving a felony sentence, or currently in state prison, serving felony sentence, or who are on parole.”
That means “if you are in County jail, awaiting trial, you can vote. If you’re in County jail, serving a misdemeanor sentence, you can vote. If you’re in County jail, as a condition of your probation, you can vote. If you’re serving a felony sentence in County jail, you can vote. I mean, there’s this long list of people who are eligible to vote and it’s really important that they know that they’re able to update their registration and actually get their ballots and vote.”
Amber Bauer, Executive Director of UFCW Western States Council – which has endorsed Prop 21 — represents 200,000 essential workers still in the workplace who fear exposure to COVID-19.
“They’re scared of bringing it home to their families. The majority of our workers are women and people of color and they’re more disproportionately impacted. Thankfully our members do have access to healthcare. But it’s generally low pay, low wage jobs, carrying the burden of protecting the food supply. And that’s really what our workers are doing all across the food chain….The way that we talk about the vote is just like a union contract. Your vote is the only way to have a voice.”
After the tele-town hall, Courage California Executive Director Irene Kao said: “We endorsed Prop 21 because what we see and feel firsthand is a housing crisis in California,” which has been heightened by COVID-19. “We see Prop 21 as a key part of the solution to making sure we have more people who are housed. We also believe that housing is a really key part of health, of economic justice, all different parts of people being able to live healthy and equitable lives. And so being able to tackle housing helps to also tackle some of these other issues that also need to be addressed in California.”