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Bay Area Headlines: Monday, 7/13/20, PM


Mail-In Ballot Anxiety in California / Bay Area School Districts Deliberate How To Reopen

Mail-In Ballot Anxiety in California

With the coronavirus pandemic raging, California is part of a growing number of states increasing mail-in balloting to avoid crowds at polling places. President Donald Trump is among those questioning the integrity of vote-by-mail elections, even though he voted by mail this year, himself. Supporters of the practice say they are just as reliable as polling places and offer greater flexibility for voters. But while polling places include workers who can assist people who have questions about filling out ballots, a voter doesn't have support at home and so problems can arise.

The California secretary of state's election data obtained by the AP showed 102,428 mail-in ballots were disqualified in the state’s 58 counties. That’s about 1.5% of the nearly 7 million mail-in ballots returned. That percentage is the highest in a primary since 2014, and the overall number is the highest in a statewide election since 2010.

Two years ago, the national average of rejected mail ballots in the general election was about 1.4% and in the 2016 presidential election year it was 1%, according to a U.S. Election Assistance Commission study.

So what went wrong? Well, the most common problem, by far, in California was missing the deadline for the ballot to be mailed and arrive. To count in the election, ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day and received within three days afterward. Statewide, more than 70,000 ballots missed those marks. Another 27,000 either didn't have a signature, or the signature didn't match the one on record for the voter.

Last March, the highest rejection rate in California was in San Francisco, where nearly 10,000 ballots, or nearly 5% of the total, were set aside, mostly because they did not arrive on time. By contrast, in rural Plumas County northeast of Sacramento, all of the 8,207 mail-in ballots received were accepted.

California traditionally has offered mail-in voting only to those who request ballots. Over time the number has grown to represent more than half of all cast ballots.

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, Governor Gavin Newsom in June signed a law requiring county election officials to mail a ballot to all the state’s nearly 21 million registered voters for the November election.

He called mail-in voting safe and secure, pointing to a series of studies that found no evidence of significant fraud. States across the political spectrum rely solely on mail ballots, including Colorado, Utah and Washington.

In preparation for November, the state is launching a ballot-tracking tool that will quickly alert voters if they need to take action, such as adding a missing signature. Another change: The state is extending the window for mail ballots to arrive to 17 days after Election Day.

Bay Area School Districts Deliberate How To Reopen

The California Department of Education has directed local districts to develop their own models for resuming schools. However, there is little agreement about how to do it.

The Alameda and Berkeley unified school districts are planning a combination of online and in class instruction. Both the San Lorenzo unified school district and the Oakland unified school district will begin with distance learning and hope to begin some in-class instruction at a later date. 

In the South Bay, students at Santa Clara County schools will also start the school year with virtual classes. Schools in San Jose were initially planning for as many students as possible to return for in person instruction, but are now reassessing. The teachers union says teachers don’t feel safe enough to return to class. 

Plans for reopening are subject to change as districts await further guidance from state and local health officials. 

Studies indicate that children face the lowest risk among age groups for COVID-19 and are less likely to transmit it.

And distance learning can be challenging. According to the New York Times, research shows most students fell behind during the last term of the year, with low income students being hit hardest.

Here in San Francisco, District Superintendent Vincent Matthews will share an update, tomorrow, on how learning will take place during the next school year. You can hear that during KALW’s live broadcast of the school board meeting tomorrow at 3 pm.

And a note: KALW’s license is held by the San Francisco Unified School District.