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Bay Area Headlines: Tuesday, 5/12/20, AM


Voting By Mail In California On Election Day / New Bill Would Ban Businesses From Refusing Cash / Free Late-Night Taxi Rides For Essential Workers 

Voting By Mail In California On Election Day 

Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order to make sure every California voter gets a ballot in the mail this November. Politics reporter Nicole Nixon interviewed Secretary of State Alex Padilla about his plans for administering an election under the threat of COVID-19. Below is the transcript.

PADILLA: Voting by mail has been growing in popularity. In the March primary, for example, more than 75 percent of voters in California received a ballot by mail. So it's just a matter of closing out the last 25 percent gap — still a lot of work to do so. But in California, where I think is better positioned to be able to do that than states across the country. But we are not advocating for an all vote-by-mail only election. There's still a lot of voters in California who may need assistance to be able to vote and I believe they have that right. So while we want to expand vote by mail, we have to pay appropriate attention to providing as many safe in-person voting opportunities on and before election day as well.
NIXON: How will this pandemic change what vote centers and polling places look like? Do you plan to release guidance to counties about implementing physical distancing measures and sanitizing those places?
PADILLA: For those people who will vote person in November, it will very likely look a little bit different. No more community rooms with 20–30 voting booths side by side. Spacing them out six feet apart is gonna require larger locations. And we're working hand in hand with counties to identify new locations that make more sense for voting during a global health pandemic. And we're gonna have to help them recruit a new generation of poll workers as well because a lot of the seniors and retirees that have helped administer Election Day in years past are not going to be available come this November.
NIXON: We're talking about all of this now, the election is still six months off. I mean, do you hope that we're in a better position then, where we don't have to be talking about closing most of the polling places in the state?
PADILLA: Look, I think it’s important for everybody to recall that, over the course of our nation's history, our democracy has proven resilient. Americans have gotten to vote every election. In times of peace, in times of war, even during the Great Depression, people turned out to vote and even during prior flu pandemics. And so, as we discussed, the November general election, it's not a matter of if there will be an election. The question is how we administer the election in a way that's accessible, secure, and safe for everybody. And it begins with sending every voter a ballot in the mail automatically.

New Bill Would Ban Businesses From Refusing Cash

Businesses in California are taking new precautions to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. Some are no longer accepting cash. But a bill at the state Capitol would ban this practice.Not even a pandemic can stop Californians from getting their taco fix. But at Zocalo, a Mexican restaurant in downtown Sacramento, there’s a new routine when it comes to ordering.

“Payment is something that creates a lot of touch points for both the guests and our employees.”

Eric Acosta is assistant general manager.

“To solve those problems, we went strictly to touchless payment. You’re able to add gratuity, make adjustments to your payment, simply through your phone or device.”

He says that trend could be here to stay even after California starts to lift its stay at home order.

“Even though we’re hoping to open up our doors, that doesn’t mean we’re going back to the normal that we previously knew—it’s more so establishing a new normal.”

But a bill in the Legislature—introduced back in February—would prohibit businesses from going cashless.
Democratic state Senator Jerry Hill authored the proposal. He says banning cash payments has the biggest impact on low-income Californians. That includes many who have worked throughout the pandemic:

“Most of the essential workers are low wage, and have a high chance of being near or below the poverty line. And cash transactions are really necessary to buy essential goods.”

Hill says he’s considering making the bill an urgency proposal, which requires more votes to pass, but means it would take effect immediately if signed by the governor.

Free Late-Night Taxi Rides For Essential Workers 

Public transit service in San Francisco has been cut dramatically due to the shelter-in-place order. Now, the city is rolling out a new commuting option for essential workers: free taxi rides.

If you visit the Department of Environment’s website, you’ll find an application form for this new taxi program. It reimburses commuters for up to 10 rides per month. Each ride can be up to $70.

It’s not for everyone, though. To qualify, you need to be an essential worker. You also need to show that your commute has been impacted by the reduced public transit service. And the program is only for late-night rides between 9 p.m. and 8:30 a.m. 

For now, the program is only accepting 70 applications, but city spokesperson Joseph Sweiss says the hope is to expand the program soon.

For those relying on public transit, Muni added the M Bus to their limited service last week. The modified route serves the Ocean View, Merced Heights, and Ingleside neighborhoods, and connects to the transit hubs of West Portal and Balboa Park. BART continues to run reduced service. Riders of both BART and MUNI are required to wear face masks.