How to vote in the Nov. 3, 2020 general election

10/07/2020

Who and what to vote for have always been the key considerations for any excursion into the voting booth. In this strange year (alarmingly stranger by the day) we also have to navigate the intricacies of where and how to vote. My preference is a masked, socially distanced appearance at one of the only three polling places in West Marin this year. Your sample ballot will direct you to the Bolinas Community Center, the San Geronimo Valley Community Center, or the Health & Human Services building on Sixth Street in Point Reyes Station. Advantageously, all three locations will be open for voting from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday preceding Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 3, when the hours will be the traditional 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.

Because all voters were sent a vote-by-mail ballot earlier this week, we all have the option of voting at our kitchen table. If this is your preference, my strong advice is to mark and return your ballot no later than Monday, Oct. 26. Don’t forget that you must sign and date the return envelope.

Anytime between now and at 8 p.m. on Election Day you can deposit your ballot in a drop-off box outside the Bolinas Community Center or the Health & Human Services building in Point Reyes Station (but not in San Geronimo). If you mail back your ballot in the return envelope, it must be postmarked no later than Nov. 3 (that means actually postmarked on Nov. 3; don’t count on a Nov. 3 postmark just because you shoved it through a mail slot before midnight).

 

Congress, state and local offices

For Congress, it’s a pleasure to again vote for Jared Huffman, who continues to do a standout job in the House of Representatives while his perennial challenger spews the range of right-wing conspiracy drivel. I wish I could be as enthusiastic about either candidate for the state assembly, so it's a lukewarm endorsement for incumbent Marc Levine (I look forward to when this guy terms out).

Three of the four candidates for two seats on the board of the Marin Healthcare District would be good choices. To preserve the status quo, vote for the two incumbents, Ann Sparkman and Harris F. “Hank” Simmonds; however, I’m inclined to pump a bit of new blood into the mix, so I’ll cast my ballot for challenger Edward J. Alfrey and incumbent Ann Sparkman.

It’s an easy choice among six people vying for four spots on the Marin Community College District board: Stuart Tanenberg, Stephanie A. O’Brien, Paul da Silva, and Philip J. Kranenberg.

 

The state propositions

If your head spins at the propositions and your reaction is to just ignore them, consider this jaw-dropping fact: As of Sept. 24, more than $525 million (over half a billion!) was raised to influence your vote on the 12 state measures on this year’s ballot. Some very monied interests are heavily invested in shaping your opinions. Make sure you don’t get misled by deceptive advertising and self-serving endorsements. Here are my entirely personal and unpaid recommendations.

Prop. 14 provides a second round of bond financing to support stem cell research. The $3 billion in bonds approved by voters in 2004 have made California a world leader for this type of critical, cutting-edge medical research. The proposed $5.5 billion in continued funding will require a total repayment, interest included, of an estimated $7.8 billion. Amortizing that sum over 30-year bonds comes to a manageable $260 million a year. I hear in the opponents’ arguments too many echoes of the anti-science rhetoric wafting these days from the you-know-which rose garden. Yes on 14.

Prop. 15 launches a welcome run at correcting the most egregious inequity of Prop. 13, the 1978 landmark initiative that upended how property taxes are assessed in California. For the most part, residential property is reassessed to market value every time ownership changes. In theory, commercial and industrial property is similarly reassessed, yet this type of property is typically owned by a corporation, and usually the same corporation remains the owner of the property no matter how many times the ownership of the corporation is reshuffled. Thus, reassessment is rare, which is why today 72 percent of the property-tax burden in California falls on the shoulders of the residential sector, up from 55 percent before Prop. 13. This massive loophole benefits wealthy corporations at the expense of homeowners. If you’re a property owner, consider how much you’re paying in special parcel taxes levied because cash-strapped schools and local governments had to go begging to voters to make up for the billions the corporations haven’t been paying because their tax bills are based on valuations often decades out of date. For high-value commercial and industrial properties, Prop. 15 will assign taxes on the basis of market value. It will retain the historic Prop. 13 protections for residential properties, small businesses, and ag land. The opportunity to cast this Yes vote is long overdue.

Prop. 16 reverses what a decade’s worth of experience has shown to be a bad decision voters made in 2009 when we approved a measure touted as increasing fairness by banning consideration of race, sex, color, ethnicity and national origin in the public sector. The result has been a marked reduction in diversity in higher education, widening gaps between women’s and men’s wages, state-sanctioned gender favoritism, an official blind eye toward racial discrimination in schools, and numerous other pernicious effects. Prop. 16 does not permit quotas and keeps anti-discrimination laws in effect. In this year of heightened awareness of how minorities are treated, California’s constitutionally enshrined anti-diversity law is an embarrassment. Vote Yes to get rid of it.

Prop. 17 extends to people who are on state parole the same voting rights enjoyed by people on county parole—the right to vote. There seems little logic for why one tier of parolees enjoys the franchise and another tier does not. This isn’t Florida; vote Yes to end a discriminatory policy toward people released from state prisons.

Prop. 18 says that if you’re old enough to vote in a general election (which means 18 years old), you should also be able to vote in the primary leading up to that election, even if you are 17 at the time. The reasoning is that the two elections are components of the same election cycle. The published arguments against this common-sense proposal are puzzlingly irrelevant; vote Yes.

Far less straightforward is Prop. 19, another perennial measure that tinkers around the edges of Prop. 13. Today, homeowners who are over 55, severely disabled, or victims of a natural disaster can in some limited cases transfer a low property tax assessment from an existing home they are selling to a new home that they are buying, thus avoiding (or minimizing) a big property tax increase. Without getting too lost in the tall weeds surrounding its provisions, Prop. 19 closes some terrible loopholes, including one that has enabled speculators to transfer low home assessments to rental properties—and to do it multiple times! It will also greatly broaden the circumstances under which inherited residential properties will be eligible for a low-tax transfer, while at the same time limiting the inherited-property exception to actual residences and farms, excluding, for example, inherited business properties, residential-income properties, and vacation homes. Surprisingly, it is estimated that Prop. 19 will generate many tens of millions of dollars in new property tax revenue for local government. Much of this revenue will be dedicated to fire protection. This proposition is so convoluted that the president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association opposes it, while the former legislative director of the very same Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association supports it. I find the pro arguments more convincing, so I recommend Yes on Prop. 19.

Prop. 20 is a retrogressive attempt to turn back the clock to the criminal justice era of “lock ‘em up and throw away the key.” Its key provisions will increase criminal penalties, tighten the reins on how parolees are supervised, and keep convicts in prison longer. At a time when steps—albeit tiny ones—are being taken toward a more enlightened approach to incarceration, it’s unfortunate that this mean-spirited measure even made it onto the ballot. No, thank you!

Rent control is certainly a less than perfect way to deal with the exorbitant cost of housing. Prop. 21 wades into that fraught subject nonetheless, but too strongly for opponents of rent control and too timidly for its advocates. Its purpose is to loosen some current restrictions that make it all but impossible for cities and counties to newly enact rent control. It doesn’t mandate rent control anywhere (20 percent of California’s population already lives in cities subject to rent control), but it does provide local entities with a bit more flexibility if they want to move in that direction. The measure’s actual language seems reasonable and adequately protective of landlords’ interests, while the principal argument in opposition seems to be the non sequitur that it will not solve the state’s housing problem. If a community wants to explore rent control, I think it should have the opportunity to do so, so I suggest a Yes vote.

Prop. 22 was put on the ballot by Uber, Lyft, and app-based delivery companies (Uber Eats, DoorDash). Are we surprised it was drafted to benefit them, and them only? It’s the epitome of a self-serving initiative, written to exempt these gig industries from AB5. That California law redefined independent contracting in California so that people working in a huge swath of independent contracting jobs now have to be hired as employees. I very much oppose AB5, because it turned out to be a blunderbuss approach. Its most disastrous consequences have been not to improve employment conditions for independent contractors but to completely eliminate the bulk of their jobs—for musicians, writers, consultants and more. If Uber and their ilk are willing to spend gobs of money ($184 million as of the last reporting cycle!) on this measure to exempt themselves from AB5, why couldn’t they have gone the extra few yards and taken on a repeal of AB5 itself? I could have supported that. But I’m offended by the haughty attitude that “you little guys who are being hurt every day by AB5 can continue to twist in the wind, while we bros, because we’ve got tons of venture capital money to play with, will invest only in our own selfish interests.” The unfairness of AB5 needs to be addressed, but giving the likes of Uber and Lyft an exclusive bye from it is not the way to go. Give them a big No instead.

If Prop. 23 sounds familiar, it’s because there was a measure on our ballots two years ago that would have put a mild crimp in the obscene profits raked in by kidney dialysis clinics. Dialysis is a mega-lucrative industry dominated in California by two private companies whose huge funding caused the 2018 measure to go down in flaming defeat. The proponents are back this year with a more modest set of proposals, focused on requiring dialysis clinics to have a medical professional on site during treatment and to report infection data to the government. Naturally, the industry is stridently opposed. What’s really going on here is a battle between the industry and the Service Employees International Union over unionizing dialysis clinic workers. So now you know why these resolutely anti-union companies have dumped $93 million (so far) into killing Prop. 23. I’ve noticed a lot of that investment showing up in tear-jerker mailers and TV ads pushing the message that dialysis patients will be keeling over dead in the streets if Prop. 23 passes. Don’t believe it. Vote Yes on 23.

Prop. 24 is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. While it does throw in a few tidbits for improving consumer privacy laws, its real purpose is to override California’s landmark privacy law that came into effect just this year. Prop. 24 will benefit the interests that put it together, including social media data collectors (like Facebook) and credit reporting firms. Particularly galling is that it will establish a system in which you will be entitled to as much online privacy as you are willing to pay for—a “pay for privacy” scheme. The A.C.L.U. says No on 24, and so do I.

Prop. 25 is a referendum on a recent California law that largely replaced the traditional money bail system that typically kept the poor in jail while awaiting trial and let the rich buy their way out of the clink. The new system treats everyone the same, basing pre-trial release on a determination of public safety and flight risk. The bail industry said it supported the reform, but almost immediately hired signature gatherers to put this measure on the ballot to keep the old money system in play. A Yes vote says you support the new, enlightened approach; a No vote says you want to go back to the Dickensian model. Vote Yes.

 

Local measures

The only local measures on this year’s ballot are Measures L and M, both of which renew school parcel taxes. Measure L is for the Shoreline Unified School District, and Measure M is for the Tamalpais Union High School District (which includes Muir Beach, Stinson Beach, Bolinas, San Geronimo Valley, and Nicasio). Both measures need your Yes vote (and both require a two-thirds majority to pass).

 

Wade Holland of Inverness has been observing the political landscape in West Marin for over 50 years. He didn’t believe it was necessary to tell you whom he recommends for president.