Monday, 23 Nov 2020

Vote Centers Open After a Week of Wildfires

Good morning.

The Blue Ridge and Silverado Fires that began this week in Orange County caused tens of thousands of residents to flee their homes and gravely injured two firefighters. Evacuation orders were lifted on Thursday and the blazes are both over 30 percent contained, according to CalFire.

Vote centers will be open for in-person voting starting on Friday morning. I spoke with Neal Kelley, chief election official for Orange County, about how voting has been affected by the two large active fires.

Have any ballots been damaged by the fires?

No. Mr. Kelley said the ballot boxes that were closed because they were in evacuation zones were later cleared out. “I had to go in with sheriff’s department escorts to be able to retrieve the ballots that were in there,” he told me. “We were able to get them out safely.”

Although the boxes were not completely unscathed, they are made out of solid steel and were able to resist high temperatures.

Have some ballot drop-off locations closed?

Ballot drop boxes have played a huge role in the elections this year. According to Mr. Kelley, over 700,000 ballots have already been returned with equal amounts of people using drop boxes and the Postal Service.

“Voters are embracing our secure drop boxes and using them in huge amounts,” he said.

Earlier this week, the authorities had to close four boxes, which were in evacuation zones. But as of Thursday, all of them have since been reopened as evacuation orders lifted.

You can go to the county’s voting website to look for drop-off locations.

Have some vote centers closed?

As fires came dangerously close to residential communities, officials closed two vote centers, Foothill Ranch Library in Irvine and the Library of the Canyons in Silverado Canyon. Both will be open to receive voters on Friday morning.

Through California’s Voter’s Choice Act model, Orange County residents aren’t tied to a particular voting location. They can cast their ballots at any vote center in the county.

Can you still vote if you left your mail-in ballot at home when you evacuated?

Voters who might have fled their homes without their mail-in ballots can still vote without them.

“They can come to one of our vote centers and we can print them a replacement vote-by-mail ballot if that’s what they choose to use,” Mr. Kelley said. “If you don’t want to use your vote-by-mail ballot, we’ll get you a ballot on demand and allow you to vote in person.”

[Read our guide to the California races to watch.]

What’s the plan to replace drop boxes and vote centers that were affected by the fires?

Even with all vote centers opening as planned, Orange County will roll out four mobile vote centers close to impacted areas on Saturday.

The mobile vote centers are trailers that can be deployed anywhere in the county and act as portable vote centers. Mr. Kelley describes them as an “office on wheels” essentially, with full ballot-on-demand and check-in capabilities.

“These mobile solutions give people an opportunity to have extra locations on top of what we have already planned,he said.

Read more about the elections:

If you are hospitalized in California, you might be able to vote without leaving your bed. [Los Angeles Times]

Ballot signature verification is flawed, which can lead to massive amounts of votes being thrown out or contested this year. [Los Angeles Times]

Returned mail-in ballots in the Bay Area have been pouring in and the amount has been “staggering,” according to election officials. [San Francisco Chronicle]

Here’s what else we’re following

Tiny homes were going to help solve Sacramento’s homeless crisis. Nearly three years after the first call to action, there are few tiny homes being used by the city to shelter the homeless. [The Sacramento Bee]

Officials suggested that the success of two Los Angeles sports teams, the Lakers and Dodgers, may be driving the spread of the coronavirus in the region. [Politico]

Tech executives appearing on Capitol Hill has become routine. Wednesday’s Senate hearing with the chief executives of Twitter, Facebook and Google was the fifth time Mark Zuckerberg has testified in front of Congress since April 2018. [The New York Times]

Disneyland is in the midst of recalling hundreds of furloughed employees after it was announced that a portion of California Adventure would reopen in November. [The Hollywood Reporter]

Hotels and tourist organizations are offering locals and nearby leisure travelers bottom-barrel rates and extra perks. Here’s how to staycation in six American cities. [The New York Times]

California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: [email protected]. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here.

Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, went to school at U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter, @jillcowan.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.

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