As the coronavirus crisis has upended the lives of people across the nation, Santa Clara County seeks to protect the most sacred right of every American: Voting.
That means the county could move to voting entirely by mail in the November election.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday adopted a plan authored by Supervisor Cindy Chavez to assess the technical procedures for a vote-by-mail only method for the general election because of the fast-moving virus.
“While I expect we won’t be as actively responding to COVID-virus come October (and) November, we’ve learnt this past month that nothing is certain,” Supervisor Mike Wassermann said at the meeting. “And I think that looking into what resource is needed to successfully carry out an all vote-by-mail election and being ready to implement it if necessary is good exercise in preparedness.”
Chavez also called on the Registrar of Voters to review its emergency ballot delivery procedures. Voters who experience personal emergencies can apply for emergency absentee ballots, but the ROV has no knowledge of which hospitals have the educational tools to inform health care staff about those voting procedures.
“I just want to make sure that we’re looking at every opportunity to allow every person in our community to vote,” Chavez told San José Spotlight.
Chavez urged the county and ROV to expand its educational outreach to nursing homes, senior assisted living facilities and county jails to ensure that people are informed about their voting rights and procedures.
States like Alaska, Wyoming and Hawaii have already begun voting by mail entirely for the presidential primary election. In Santa Clara County, officials this year began mailing all voters a ballot as part of the Voter’s Choice Act, but also opened vote centers across the county for in-person voting.
The federal government is also ramping up its election efforts. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes $400 million to assist states with running elections by mail and to expand early voting and online registration. Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon introduced legislation to expand early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail to all states.
The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act would also mandate states and jurisdictions to establish contingency plans for voting during the coronavirus crisis.
Reporting coronavirus information
The county’s Emergency Operation Center, Public Health Department and other county officials will soon be mandated to report coronavirus-related statistics and strategies to the Board of Supervisors.
The Board of Supervisors approved a referral from Chavez and Supervisor Susan Ellenberg that calls for the county agencies to report detailed information to the board, including the number of positive cases, beds, ventilator capacities and availability of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at every hospital in the county. Some of that information is available on dashboards on the county public health department’s website.
Communicating information about the coronavirus is key to strengthening the public’s trust in the government. People will only stay at home and practice social distancing if they understand the impact of their actions, Supervisor Joe Simitian said during the meeting.
The proposal also requires county staff to report the number of tests administered and their strategies to increase testing.
“What indicators should we be looking for to signal a staged reversal of Shelter in Place (SIP) order? What does success look like?” Ellenberg and Chavez wrote in a joint memo.
Residents and officials have criticized the county for failing to provide comprehensive coronavirus data. Supervisor Dave Cortese said in an interview that he’s frustrated with public health officials’ lack of transparency about local infections and deaths among the unhoused population.
After a homeless resident died of coronavirus in March, Cortese said the county’s public health department refused to disclose details of the death.
“You just can’t get that information and the Board of Supervisors doesn’t have direct control over the public health officers nor do we have authority to essentially tell them what to do during an emergency, so it’s a little frustrating,” Cortese said.
The measure also directs the agencies to report expenditures related to the coronavirus crisis. Residents should “expect to see some very tough prioritization over the coming year,” Ellenberg wrote in a statement.
Emergency state and federal funds will offset some of the county’s increase in expenses, ranging from health care responses, housing solutions, childcare and support for renters, nonprofits and small businesses. As expenditures continue to rise, “we don’t yet know what our total additional expenditures will be, we can’t yet assess whether those external funds will be sufficient to make the county whole,” Ellenberg wrote.
Also Tuesday, the board passed a resolution by Chavez to denounce xenophobia and anti-Asian sentiment during the crisis. Almost 100 cases of coronavirus discrimination are being reported daily across the country, according to an online reporting center launched by San Francisco State University’s Asian American Studies Department, Chinese for Affirmative Action and the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council.
“It’s disheartening but more than that, it’s shameful that this is the kind of behavior people have to confront,” Simitian said during the meeting.
Here at home, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office on April 2 pressed misdemeanor charges related to a hate crime in San Jose. Local officials have denounced the violence and anti-Asian rhetoric.
On March 30, officials said the suspect Carlos Garridos approached a Vietnamese couple at the grocery store. According to the victims’ accounts, Garridos threatened to kill them if he had an AK-47.
The couple walked away and as they exited the store, Garridos confronted the victims again by pointing his fingers with a gun gesture yelling: “boom.”
San Jose police arrested Garridos and he was charged for a misdemeanor hate crime and a misdemeanor for resisting arrest. Garridos has been released under court-mandated conditions and he pleaded not guilty. His next court date is June 8.
The DA advises residents to contact their local law enforcement agency if they believe they are a victim of a hate crime.
“We have a very, very diverse community and we don’t want a virus or any other tragedy that befalls us to create divisions between our community,” Chavez told San José Spotlight. “So this is a time for us not to blame others, but really for us to link arms — metaphorically, of course — to work as hard as we can to protect the life and safety of every person in our community.”