Political Fix (5 March, 2020)

Election Hangover

It’s Super Tuesday and everyone is anxiously awaiting election watch parties and all the election returns.

Then I land back to earth finding that both Fresno and Tulare Counties are experiencing problems at their polling places.

It’s going to be a long night.

The Tulare County Registrar of Voters reported that some voting machines were down due to software error messaging and not in operation. “Officials are aware and working diligently with the machine manufacturer to target the error and resolve the problem,” said the press release.

The Fresno Bee reported, “Frustration, delays and questions plagued Fresno County voters early Tuesday when the county’s election computer system crashed, causing issues for voters on and off for almost three hours.”

The Secretary of State’s office informed the Bee that Fresno County is having the worst problems in the state and Andrew Janz is asking that the polls stay open an extra hour.

But Secretary of State Alex Padilla warned voters a week ago, “Our election process does not end on election night. Due to state law and frankly the sheer size of California, the vote count will continue well beyond election night.”

He pointed out that there are more than 20.6 million registered voters in California, a total up from 17.9 million in the state’s last presidential primary in 2016.

And remember 2016 I do.

Visions of Nunes’ staff member Anthony Ratekin clicking the “refresh” button every five minutes on Tulare County Registrar of Voters’ website only to see an error message are still fresh in my mind.

In the 2016 general election some polling places ran out of ballots and voters were forced to vote electronically. Other sites around the Tulare County were copying ballots for the unexpected huge numbers that showed up.

At around 10:15pm voters in parts of Visalia and Lindsay were still waiting at their polling place to cast their ballots and the registrar of voters had to delay posting results until 11:15pm.

Former Congress member David Valadao ended 2018’s election night with a 5000 vote lead over Congress member TJ Cox and gave a victory speech. Three weeks later he was making a concession speech.

The same thing happened in the Tulare County Board of Supervisor District 1 race. Supervisor Kuyler Crocker was losing on election night, but ended up winning the seat a month later.

Coincidently these three candidates are on the ballot tonight and embroiled in tight races. So get ready to “hurry up and wait.”

The silver lining is, even though we may not get returns by the time the Valley Voice goes to print or I succumb to sleep, I ultimately have faith that the registrar of voters will count every vote and get it right.

In the mean time it’s never too early to talk about the next election.

Is the Cash Bail System immoral? Voters will decide in November

On any given day there are 2.3 million people incarcerated in facilities ranging from immigration detention centers to federal prisons. The United States incarcerates the most people in the world and almost more than in China and Russia combined.

But we already know the United States has a system of mass incarceration.

What most people do not know is that nearly 70% of those in jail on any given day have not been convicted or sentenced. And that is mostly because they are poor.

The average amount of bail set in the United States for felonies is $10,000, which is eight months of working full time at the federal minimum wage. Every year, thousands of innocent people sit in jail only because they can’t pay bail. As a result they lose their jobs, their homes, custody of their children and go into debt.

The U.S. is one of only two countries in the world that allows a for-profit bail bond industry to exist. The other is the Philippines.

Here are a few humbling stories.

In New York, a 19-year-old man had been charged with possession of stolen property after he and his friend were caught with stolen electronic equipment. He was released when his co-defendant admitted to stealing the property and confirmed that his friend was unaware. But that was after he sat in jail for six months because he couldn’t afford to pay the $2000 bail. He actually ended up spending more time in jail than if he had been convicted of the crime for which he was arrested.

Jessica Preston was eight months pregnant when she was arrested in Macomb County, Michigan for driving with a suspended license in 2016. She had a prior offense so was given a choice: Spend 14 days in jail while waiting for a hearing date or come up with $10,000. She could not make bail and five days into her incarceration went into labor. Ignoring her repeated pleas for help, jail personnel refused to call an ambulance and she was forced to give birth on the jail house floor.

In Kent County Michigan a 16-year-old was arrested for allegedly smashing a car window and breaking a bottle of pricey wine he’d found inside. Unable to afford the $200 bail required for his release, he sat behind bars for three days before committing suicide, hanging himself in his jail cell.

Kalief Browder, a 16-year-old from the Bronx, who was imprisoned in Rikers Island for three years, two of them in solitary confinement, because he couldn’t afford his $3,000 bail. His alleged crime: stealing a backpack in 2010. He killed himself not long after he was released not able to cope with his time in prison.

The cash bail system also raises the number of false convictions.

Sitting in jail for a minor offense forces people into false plea deals. Detainees are told that all they have to do is plead guilty, get time served, and they can go home. After sitting in a jail cell for many months without the ability to pay bail, they give in. The problem now is that the person, who may have been innocent, is free but can’t get a job because they have a criminal record.

In 2018, California decided enough is enough and banned cash bail altogether.

Senate Bill 10 changed California from a money-based system to a risk-based release and detention system. People arrested for minor offenses would be able to go free until their hearing. A judge would decide the flight or public safety risk for those arrested for more serious crimes.

Within two months after California’s bill became law the bail industry had overturned it. A day after former Governor Brown signed the law, the bail industry collected enough signatures to qualify a measure for the November 2020 ballot. The law was then put on hold until voters could decide in the general election.

Since that time bail bondsmen have been back in business.

The bail industry’s measure on the November ballot will amend the California Constitution to require that arrested persons be given the option to post cash bail for pre-trial release. The term “bail” would be defined as cash, state or federal bonds, real property, or bond posted by a licensed bail agent on behalf of a licensed surety company.

The industry defends its ballot measure by claiming that bail guarantees people show up for trial. If they didn’t, they’d forfeit their bail money.

The industry also claims that SB10 compromises public safety. Those who should be jailed would be released en masse, with no guarantee they’d return to court for their hearings and may commit other crimes.

But these threats to public safety already existed with the bail system: If a person was wealthy enough, no matter how serious their crime, they could be released if the judge set bail, which they usually do.

New Jersey, Colorado, New Mexico and Alaska have gotten rid of their bail systems, and there is already data in New Jersey on the public safety effects of abolishing the bail system.

The New Jersey Criminal Justice Reform Act took effect January 1, 2017, and eliminated money bail in the state. The law states that innocent people should not sit in jail. People can be held in New Jersey only if their release poses an unacceptable flight risk or poses a danger.

The data showed that defendants released under the new system were no more likely to be charged with a new crime or fail to appear in court than defendants released on bail under the old system. The study also showed a smaller jail population.

A former New Jersey prosecutor said, “It is absolutely worth it and absolutely the right thing to do. It’s really just a question of if there is political will to do it and whether people are willing to put aside their sort of traditional party line or ideological views and look at the greater good.”

Come November, California will be asked the same question. Will we want to side with the $2billion bail industry or vote for the “greater good?”

Was Prop 13 on the March 3 ballot?

We only had one measure on the ballot this election and we still managed to mess it up.

Yes, there was a Prop 13 on the ballot and yes, the funding would go to schools, but it didn’t have anything to do with the property tax measure by the same name passed in 1978.

Every couple of years proposition numbers are reused and it was an unfortunate decision by the California Secretary of State to repeat the number 13. Especially given the fact there will be an amendment to the 1978 Prop 13 on the November ballot.

The measure we voted on today was called “Proposition 13, the School and College Facilities Bond.”

A “yes” vote authorizes $15 billion in general obligation bonds for school and college facilities, including $9 billion for preschool and K-12 schools, $4 billion for universities, and $2 billion for community colleges. According to the California Legislative Analyst, the state would make payments totaling an estimated $26 billion, including $15 billion in principal and $11 billion in interest, over 35 years from the General Fund.

A “no” vote opposes this measure to authorize $15 billion in general bonds.

By the end of election night 70% had voted no on Prop 13.

The measure is in contrast to the proposition coming up this November.

The proposition on the November ballot is called “California Tax on Commercial and Industrial Properties for Education and Local Government Funding Initiative.”

This new law will amend the original Proposition 13 and remove caps for commercial and industrial properties.

In 1978 Howard Jarvis proposed a 1% cap on all property tax and based the tax on the home’s value. The proposal also said that there should never be more than a 2% increase in any given year. It passed with more than two-thirds of the vote.

The amendment, if passed, will increase commercial property taxes by requiring commercial and industrial properties to be taxed based on their market value, rather than their purchase price.

A “no” vote would keep commercial property taxes as they are now.

The purpose of amending the original Prop. 13 is to increase funding to California’s education system, such as teacher salaries. Forty percent of the increase in property taxes would be distributed to school districts and community colleges.

Doubtless, the November ballot will have many propositions that ask us to increase taxes.

But with California now the third most expensive state in which to live behind Hawaii and the District of Columbia, I don’t know how receptive voters will be to amend the real Proposition 13.

One thought on “Political Fix (5 March, 2020)

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  1. The California Lottery short changed the California Dept of Education 36 million dollars
    Why should I trust the State with more money.
    Also. With the bail amonts that were listed. If bail was 2,000 he only needed 200.00, 10,000=1,000
    Under the law they could ask for speedy trial.

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