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Looks like election in November will be all ‘Vote By Mail’

Merced County’s top election official says an imminent decision will likely create a statewide “all-mail” ballot process for the big vote in November.


That means every registered voter in the region — nearly 106, 350 people at last count — will receive a ballot in the mail — whether they request one or not.


“We would not have our regular polling places, but we would be asked to open some assistance centers throughout the county to provide in-person services for those voters who need extra help [filling out or replacing ballots, and registering late],” said Barbara Levey, the county’s registrar of voters. “We are looking at physical locations and trying to determine where we would do that right now. They would be open at least three days, including Election Day, possibly four, or maybe more. We don’t know yet.”


Levey told the Times that state legislators have been working on an all-mail mandate, but all eyes are on Governor Newsom who could make it happen with an executive order as soon as this week.


“With the COVID-19 concerns, and a lot of talk about a resurgence in the fall, California’s registrars have been clamoring for a decision because we need to get started,” Levey said. “We need decisions now because of things like Vote By Mail envelopes. If all of a sudden the entire country is mailing ballot material, well we have a limited number of printers. We need to be able to get in line and get what we need. We also need to finalize locations for assistance centers and make sure they meet accessibility requirements. We need to devise our outreach to voters. We need to be educating voters on the new process.”


Levey said she plans on increasing the number of ballot drop box locations as well. She said postage on the return ballot envelopes will still be paid by the county. She also said her team is currently redesigning the envelopes and other material so voters can expect something different in the mail that will stand out.


“The idea is to create a whole voter campaign to tell people to look out for the new ballot and the new look, and really capitalize on that, and really try to reach out to voters, and tell them that’s the one they will use to vote,” she said.


The pandemic and new election rules are also changing the way the county trains election workers. “Instead of bringing in 650 poll workers,” Levey said, “now I might bring in just 100 for multiple days. And because they are being asked to do additional services at these voting assistance centers, it’s a higher level of training, and that’s another thing we need to plan for.”


That said, Merced County is already ahead of the curve when it comes to voting from home. In the March primary election, 74 percent of local voters received a ballot in the mail. That’s about on par with the average across California.


Since the 2016 Voters Choice Act, counties across the state have been moving to all-mail elections backed up by so-called “Vote Centers.” Fourteen have already made the change, and more were expected to start the process this year and through 2024. In the last few elections, Merced County set up a couple centers as test sites to prepare for the VCA mandate.


“I didn’t want to make a major change before the November election because it’s going to be such a big, historic event,” Levey said. “It was going to be a gradual progression.”


However, the registrar added, “One thing I feel really good about is that we are well familiar with providing those services, and we will be able to continue to do them more efficiently while some counties will face a bigger hurdle because they haven’t made those preparations before.”


Vote-By-Mail voters who prefer to hold on to their ballot until Election Day can still do so and drop them off Nov. 3, but the traditional polling place experience is quickly becoming a thing of the past thanks to COVID-19.


“I think voters will get on board,” Levey said. “People are sometimes concerned about Vote By Mail, but I will tell you our processes are good. They are secure. They are transparent. Every ballot count room is monitored and on tape. Our security and our processes should inspire confidence. We verify signatures against voter registration records. We also reach out to voters if they fail to find their envelopes or if their signature doesn’t match, and we give them an opportunity to correct the situation. …


“I will also be talking to voters to make sure they practice security over their own ballots. We want the voter to be watching the mail for it, and once they receive it, they safeguard it until such time they are ready to vote it. Then they seal it in the envelope, sign it and return it through the mail or to one of our drop boxes —  rather than giving it to somebody else to turn in for them, or giving it to somebody who might show up at the door. I know that is always a concern, but we just have to really remind voters of their responsibility to secure their vote.”


Presidential elections are always considered “historic,” but the vote on Nov. 3  is shaping up to be a monumental event for the ages. America, in recent history, has never been more politically divided, and President Trump is up for re-election after surviving the Russia investigations and impeachment in the House of Representatives. And now, the coronavirus pandemic has devastated perhaps Trump’s greatest accomplishment: a thriving U.S. economy.


Meanwhile, across Merced County, there will be a variety of city council and mayoral seats across up for election. School district seats will be up. Local government measures too.


There is some good news for candidates at this time. The county will be offering electronic filing for campaign financial documents. Candidates will be able to download, file documents, and even check their calculations online as they go before the final filing date.


“It’s a good way to expand our footprint outside of the County Administration Building in Merced,” Levey pointed out. “So those candidates on the West Side, or in Delhi, for example, won’t have to come in to file those forms.”


Candidates who want to enter an election race will also be able to download documents online before the July candidate filing date.


Said Levey, “This election season is unprecedented. We are making a pretty major change on a pivot here, but we will do what we need to do in order to make this election safe and secure for our voters and our staff.”


• Gov. Newsom has already issued an executive order mandating that all voters in two upcoming special elections — in Riverside and Los Angeles counties — receive ballots in the mail. That order encouraged counties “to make in-person voting opportunities available … in a manner consistent with public health and safety.”


• The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously this week to send vote-by-mail ballots to every voter registered for the November general election, citing concerns about coronavirus-related social distancing.

By Jonathan Whitaker •  May 2, 2020

Thousands of Community Health Centers Set to Receive Additional Emergency Funding amid COVID-19 Crisis

The Senate approved roughly $484 billion in new coronavirus relief aid for small businesses, hospitals and community health centers across the nation. The aid package is expected to provide financial relief to Clinica Sierra Vista which serves more than 200,000 patients between Kern and Fresno Counties.


The aid package directs $75 billion to hospitals for reinstatement and provider expenses, and $25 billion to a new coronavirus testing program, along with $825 million for community heath centers. The House is expected to approve the measure Thursday.


Today, California’s more than 1370 community health center sites, including 31 Clinica Sierra Vista locations, provide care to more than 7.2 million people in the state - that’s one in every six Californians and one in every three Medi-Cal patients. Clinica Sierra Vista visits are down nearly 60-percent due to prioritizing urgent patient needs and encouraging non-urgent patients to delay appointments. In addition to that, all Clinica dental practices have been closed except for emergency visits.


"We thank our elected leaders for recognizing the vital role community health centers play in keeping thousands of people healthy," said Brian Harris, CEO for Clinica Sierra Vista. "We continue to offer care and COVID-19 testing to patients regardless of their ability to pay. It's reassuring to know our organization's financial stability is being considered at the highest levels of government as we continue to offer care in the face of revenue hardships."


Clinica Sierra Vista continues to test for COVID-19 at record rates in the the central valley, as of April 21st we have tested more than 1,000 people between Kern and Fresno counties. Nearly all patients have experienced mild symptoms, and our doctors continue to check in with patients who have tested positive on a daily basis.


To date we are testing at 23 Clinical sites across the valley. We have done the most testing by the numbers at our south and east Bakersfield locations, along with our Elm community health center in Fresno and Arvin location in Kern county.


We also expect to be able to bring our (10) Abbott Laboratories ID NOW Rapid Result testing machines online soon.

Posted: May 1, 2020 BAKERSFIELD, CA

Every registered voter would receive ballot in mail if plan is adopted

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