Elections 2020: In Congressional District 38, Sanchez breezing past Tolar

Democrat incumbent Linda Sanchez, compiling a 3-1 margin in votes, appeared headed for an easy victory over fellow Democrat Michael Tolar in the race to represent the 38th Congressional District on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

First-time candidate Tolar hoped his campaign would push the party further to the left. Tolar agree on many key issues, supporting policies such as universal healthcare and California’s sanctuary laws to protect undocumented immigrants.

In the primary, Sanchez scored 77.7% of the vote to Tolar’s 22.3%.

The District: It includes a sliver of northern Orange County plus southern Los Angeles County cities. Voter registration is 50.1% Democrat, 20.8% Republican, 27.4% independent. Demographics skew older and diverse, with 53.5% Latino, 32.5% White, 12.5% Asian American, 1.6% Black.

The Incumbent: Sanchez, 51, is a Democrat and Whittier resident who was born in Orange to parents who immigrated from Mexico. Before she was elected to office in 2002 to represent what was then the 39th District, Sanchez’s legal practice was focused on working with organized labor. Much of her effort in congress has focused on issues such as worker safety and bringing back overseas jobs, along with tax reform, retirement security and supporting public education. Recently, Sanchez cosponsored legislation focused on tax deductions for musicians, extending emergency healthcare coverage and offering grants for nonprofits during the pandemic.

The Challenger: Tolar, 27, a fellow Democrat who also lives in Whittier, was born on a military base in Louisiana and said his family struggled to make ends meet growing up. He went to work straight out of high school, but started studying political science at Rio Hondo Community College at the age of 24 and graduated in May. He’s billing himself as a progressive candidate who supports policies such as a ban on assault weapons, expanded social security benefits for people with disabilities, the Green New Deal, higher wages for workers, free tuition to public universities and trade schools, and sensible rent control.

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Elections 2020: In Congressional District 47, Lowenthal headed for win over Briscoe

Rep. Alan Lowenthal held a commanding lead over Republican John Briscoe as the men battled for the second time Tuesday over the 47th District, the House seat that straddles southern Los Angeles and northern Orange counties. This was the second time that Briscoe, the Republican challenger, tried to win the seat from Lowenthal, the Democratic incumbent. In this year’s primary, Briscoe won fewer than half as many votes as Lowenthal.

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The District: District 47 encompasses parts of L.A. and Orange counties, including Long Beach, Garden Grove, Westminster, Stanton, Los Alamitos, and Cypress. Home to approximately 719,805 people, this district has been served by Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) since 2013. Most people living in District 47 are White (34.1%), Hispanic (34.1%), or Asian (21.4%).

The Incumbent: Lowenthal is a former psychology professor and career politician who previously served in the Long Beach City Council, the California Assembly, and the state Senate, before becoming a congressman. Lowenthal, who usually votes along party lines, is traditionally strong on education issues.

The Challenger: Briscoe is a Republican and member of the Ocean View Board of Education. He wants to increase security along the U.S.-Mexico border, enforce strict sobriety laws for the homeless, and make prices for health services more transparent.

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Trump wants Supreme Court involved in election

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is vowing to ask the Supreme Court to weigh in on the inconclusive election. The Associated Press has not declared a winner in the presidential race.

See the latest election results

Trump appeared before supporters at the White House early Wednesday morning and cried foul over the election results, calling the process “a major fraud on our nation.” But there’s no evidence of foul play in the cliffhanger.

The night ended with hundreds of thousands of votes still to be counted, and the outcome still unclear in key states he needs if he is to win against Democrat Joe Biden.

Nevertheless, he has cast the night as a disenfranchisement of his voters. He said: “We will win this and as far as I’m concerned we already have won it.”

Trump says: “We’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court — we want all voting to stop.” In fact, there is no more voting — just counting.

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President Donald Trump coming to Orange County for private fundraiser

President Donald Trump is scheduled to come to Orange County on Sunday, Oct. 18 for a private fundraiser at tech mogul Palmer Luckey’s estate.

The news came Thursday, just as latest fundraising numbers showed the president falling behind former Vice President Joe Biden in campaign cash.

Biden raised a record-breaking $383 million in September to Trump’s $247.8 million, per reports due Thursday. And Biden reported $432 million in cash heading into October vs. Trump’s $251 million.

Invitations for Sunday’s fundraiser at Luckey’s Newport Beach home show tickets ranging from $2,800 for an individual admission to $150,000 for a couple to attend and take a photo with the president. Ric Grenell, Trump’s former acting Director of National Intelligence, is also slated to be a special guest at the event.

The event was originally slated to take place Oct. 6, but was postponed after Trump contracted the coronavirus. The president says he no longer feels ill and his doctors have cleared him for public appearances. But some experts have expressed concern about him holding in-person events less than two weeks after he was released from the hospital, and they continue to discourage any large public gatherings.

Luckey has donated $405,600 to Trump’s campaign this cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records. And he’s donated more than $1.7 million total this cycle, with much of the rest of those funds going to GOP committees and Republicans running for targeted seats, such as Michelle Steel in CA-48 and Young Kim in CA-39.


Palmer Luckey will host President Donald Trump for a fundraiser. (AP File Photo/Eric Risberg)

Luckey is a Long Beach native who was 19 when he co-founded the Oculus Rift virtual-reality system in Irvine. His company sold for an estimated $3 billion to Facebook in 2014. He didn’t report any political donations before 2017. But he has said he was forced out of Facebook that year after reports surfaced that he’d donated $10,000 to a pro-Trump nonprofit that touted the power of internet memes to swing elections.

Luckey said in a public apology at the time that he was a libertarian who supported Gary Johnson and Ron Paul, and his $677,558 in donations during the 2018 election cycle went to GOP committees and candidates other than Trump. But media outlets discovered that Luckey used shell companies to donate $100,000 to Trump’s inauguration committee. And now — as he’s focused on his defense and surveillance start-up Anduril, which is being called a “virtual border wall” — he’s openly supporting the president, who still aspires to build a wall at the Mexican border.

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In embarrassing twist, Democrats have no Iowa caucus results

By STEVE PEOPLES, THOMAS BEAUMONT and ALEXANDRA JAFFE

DES MOINES, Iowa  — Democratic party officials in Iowa worked furiously Tuesday to deliver the delayed results of their first-in-the-nation caucus, as frustrated presidential candidates claimed momentum and plowed ahead in their quest for the White House.

Technology problems and reporting “inconsistencies” kept Iowa Democratic Party officials from releasing results from Monday’s caucus, the much-hyped kickoff to the 2020 primary. It was an embarrassing twist after months of promoting the contest as a chance for Democrats to find some clarity in a jumbled field with no clear front-runner.

Instead, caucus day ended with no winner, no official results and many fresh questions about whether Iowa can retain its coveted “first” status.

State party officials said final results would be released later Tuesday and offered assurances that the problem was not a result of “a hack or an intrusion.” Officials were conducting quality checks and verifying results, prioritizing the integrity of the results, the party said in a statement.

The statement came after tens of thousands of voters spent hours Monday night sorting through a field of nearly a dozen candidates who had spent much of the previous year fighting to win the opening contest of the 2020 campaign and, ultimately, the opportunity to take on President Donald Trump this fall.

The candidates didn’t wait for the party to resolve its issues before claiming, if not victory, progress and moving on to next-up New Hampshire.

“It looks like it’s going to be a long night, but we’re feeling good,” former Vice President Joe Biden said, suggesting the final results would “be close.”

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said he had “a good feeling we’re going to be doing very, very well here in Iowa” once results were posted. “Today marks the beginning of the end for Donald Trump,” he predicted.

“Listen, it’s too close to call,” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said. “The road won’t be easy. But we are built for the long haul.”

And Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was most certain.

“So we don’t know all the results, but we know by the time it’s all said and done, Iowa, you have shocked the nation,” he said. “By all indications, we are going on to New Hampshire victorious.”

Democrats faced the possibility that whatever numbers they ultimately released would be questioned. And beyond 2020, critics began wondering aloud whether the Iowa caucuses, a complicated set of political meetings staged in a state that is whiter and older than the Democratic Party, are a tradition whose time had passed.

The party has tried to accommodate critics, this year by promising to report three different data points about voters’ preferences, presumably improving transparency. But the new system created new headaches.

State party spokeswoman Mandy McClure said it had “found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results,” forcing officials to try to verify results with “underlying data” and the paper trail.

Some of the trouble stemmed from issues with a new mobile app developed to report results to the party. Caucus organizers reported problems downloading the app and other glitches.

Des Moines County Democratic Chair Tom Courtney said the new app created “a mess.” As a result, Courtney said precinct leaders were phoning in results to the state party headquarters, which was too busy to answer their calls in some cases.

Organizers were still looking for missing results several hours after voting concluded.

Shortly before 2 a.m., the state party was making plans to dispatch people to the homes of precinct captains who hadn’t reported their numbers. That’s according to a state party official in the room who was not authorized to share internal discussions publicly.

Earlier in the night, Iowa Democrats across the state cast their votes, balancing a strong preference for fundamental change with an overwhelming desire to defeat Trump. At least four high-profile candidates vied for the lead in a contest that offered the opening test of who and what the party stands for in the turbulent age of Trump.

It’s just the first in a primary season that will span all 50 states and several U.S. territories, ending at the party’s national convention in mid-July.

For Democrats, the moment was thick with promise for a party that has seized major gains in states since Trump won the White House in 2016. But instead of clear optimism, a growing cloud of uncertainty and intraparty resentment hung over the election as the prospect of an unclear result raised fears of a long and divisive primary fight in the months ahead.

One unsurprising development: Trump won the Republican caucus, a largely symbolic victory given that he faced no significant opposition.

The president eagerly seized on the Democrats’ problems.

“The Democrat Caucus is an unmitigated disaster,” Trump tweeted early Tuesday. “Nothing works, just like they ran the Country.” He added: “The only person that can claim a very big victory in Iowa last night is ‘Trump.’”

Pre-caucus polls suggested Sanders entered the night with a narrow lead, but any of the top four candidates — Sanders, Biden, Warren and Buttigieg — was positioned to score a victory. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who represents neighboring Minnesota, was also claiming momentum, while outsider candidates including entrepreneur Andrew Yang, billionaire activist Tom Steyer and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard could be factors.

“We know one thing: We are punching above our weight,” Klobuchar said late Monday, promising to keep fighting in New Hampshire.

New voters played a significant role in shaping Iowa’s election.

About one-quarter of all voters reported that they were caucusing for the first time, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of voters who said they planned to take part in Monday’s Democratic caucuses. The first-timers were slightly more likely to support Sanders, Warren or Buttigieg, compared with other candidates.

At the same time, VoteCast found that roughly two-thirds of caucusgoers said supporting a candidate who would fundamentally change how the system in Washington works was important to their vote. That compared to about a third of caucusgoers who said it was more important to support a candidate who would restore the political system to how it was before Trump’s election in 2016.

Not surprisingly, nearly every Iowa Democrat said the ability to beat Trump was an important quality for a presidential nominee. VoteCast found that measure outranked others as the most important quality for a nominee.

The 2020 fight has already played out over myriad distractions, particularly congressional Democrats’ push to impeach Trump, which has often overshadowed the primary and effectively pinned several leading candidates to Washington at the pinnacle of the early campaign season.

Meanwhile, ultrabillionaire Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, is running a parallel campaign that ignored Iowa as he prepares to pounce on any perceived weaknesses in the field come March.

The amalgam of oddities was building toward what could be a murky Iowa finale before the race pivoted quickly to New Hampshire, which votes Feb. 11.

For the first time, the Iowa Democratic Party planned to report three sets of results: a tally of caucusgoers’ initial candidate preference; vote totals from the “final alignment” after supporters of lower-ranking candidates were able to make a second choice; and the total number of State Delegate Equivalents each candidate receives.

There is no guarantee that all three will show the same winner when they’re ultimately released.

The Associated Press will declare a winner based on the number of state delegates each candidate wins, which has been the traditional standard.

 

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Rep. Harley Rouda endorses Mike Bloomberg for president

Rep. Harley Rouda is endorsing billionaire Mike Bloomberg as Democratic candidate for president, citing the former New York City mayor’s business experience and track record fighting climate change.

“He has the ability to not only beat Donald Trump but, more importantly, to bring our country together, and restore America to its place as the leader of the free world,” Rouda said in a statement slated to go public Friday.

Bloomberg gave at least $4 million to support Rouda, D-Laguna Beach, in 2018 when he flipped Orange County’s coastal 48th District to blue for the first time.

Rouda told Politico that he liked what he heard Thursday when the billionaire businessman — who’s been a Democrat, a Republican and an independent in the past — sold himself as a centrist during closed-door meetings on Capitol Hill.

Republicans still have a 6.4 percentage point voter registration advantage in Rouda’s district. While the congressman has been vocal about climate change issues, and voted to impeach Trump, the former Republican also has spoken out against the Democratic party going too far to the left.

“Like myself, Mike Bloomberg believes in smart capitalism coupled with good government,” Rouda said.

“He’s a legendary businessman who also ran one of the nation’s largest and most complex cities, a city with a population larger than 39 states. He’s met payrolls, knows how to balance budgets, and understands the intricacies of our economy.”

Bloomberg entered the presidential race late, but has already poured more than $100 million into TV ads and adding hundreds of staffers across the county.

Bloomberg said he’s honored to have Rouda’s support, which comes less than two weeks after the media magnate opened his first California campaign office in Riverside. Rouda is the third Democratic House member to endorse Bloomberg this week, joining Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy and New York Rep. Max Rose.

When asked Jan. 7 who he was backing for president, Rouda would only say that he was supporting “whoever can beat President Trump.”

The next morning, news leaked that Rouda was billed with Rep. Lou Correa, D-Anaheim, and others to co-host a private fundraiser in Irvine for former Vice President Joe Biden. Correa formally endorsed Biden in August and joined his campaign trail last week.

But neither Rouda nor Correa showed up to the Biden fundraiser in Shady Canyon on Jan. 9, since they were stuck voting in Washington, D.C.

Rep. Katie Porter, D-Irvine, has been stumping for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren since she became a co-chair of the senator’s campaign in the fall.

The other four local House representatives haven’t endorsed anyone for president, with Reps. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, and Linda Sanchez, D-Whittier, saying they likely won’t back anyone before the March 3 primary.

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Democrat who lost D.C. bid in November says he’ll try for Sacramento next

Dave Min, a UC Irvine law professor who was endorsed by the California Democratic Party in his unsuccessful congressional bid last year, will challenge Orange County GOP state Sen. John Moorlach in the 2020 election.

Min finished third in the June primary for the 45th Congressional District, missing the November runoff by 4,099 votes to Katie Porter, who went on to win the seat in November by defeating Mimi Walters.

Following the loss, Min said he was unsure of his next step in politics but kept hearing from former supporters who urged him to run for public office again. Eventually, he decided to compete for the 37th Senate District.

“We built a really strong and amazing grassroots movement and had hundreds of volunteers for our campaign,” said Min, 42, who lives in Irvine with his wife and three kids.

Min said he plans to make “protecting our environment, ending the gun violence epidemic, building more affordable housing, and protecting our immigrant communities” core platforms of his campaign.

Moorlach has served in the state Senate since 2015, winning a special election that year and then earning a full term in 2016, when he beat his Democratic opponent by 14 percentage points. The former Orange County Supervisor has branded himself a fiscal conservative who has sought pension reform at all levels of government. He launched his political career when he predicted Orange County’s 1994 bankruptcy during a successful bid to become the county’s treasurer-tax collector.

In contrast to Moorlach’s 24 years of experience as an elected official, Min has never held public office. Instead, Min points to a political resume that includes time as a senior policy advisor for the Joint Economic Committee of Congress and as policy director for the Center for American Progress.

The 37th Senate District runs along the coast from Huntington Beach to Laguna Beach and stretches inland through Costa Mesa, Irvine, and Tustin, and up to Orange, Villa Park and portions of Irvine. Republicans hold a 5 percentage point voter registration lead in the seat, but that’s half the of the advantage the GOP had four years ago when Moorlach one his first full term. The district also overlaps with several House seats and state assembly districts that swung Democratic in 2018, continuing a trend that has seen Republicans losing more and more federal and state seats in recent years.

If elected, Min, a first-generation Korean-American, would be the first Asian American Democrat to represent Orange County at the state level.

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Russians will hack again in ’18. Here’s how So Cal elections will answer

At a recent conference on election security, Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley said he’d asked former CIA Director Michael Hayden if Russian hackers will try to disrupt the 2018 mid-term elections.

“He didn’t hesitate,” Kelley recounted. “He said, ‘They will be targeting congressional races.’”

In Southern California, home to some of the nation’s most-competitive congressional contests, that threat is being taken seriously. Consider just a few of the many new security protocols being adopted by election officials in the four-county region.

Office emails are being encrypted and networks buttressed. Election employees are randomly being mock phished to see if they’ll fall for simulated online invaders. Federal officials are being invited to inspect and test the region’s many voting systems.

Even the seemingly oldest of old-school safety protocols — counting up some election results by hand — is expected to play an expanded role in the 2018 midterms.

The local upgrades are part of a national response to Russia’s meddling in America’s 2016 elections. Intelligence agencies have determined that, among other things, Russian agents and their operatives executed a cyberattack on a U.S. voting software supplier, sent spear-phishing emails to election officials, and targeted voter rolls in at least 21 states, breaching a small (but undisclosed) number of them.

Since then, Congress has authorized $380 million to help states strengthen voting systems’ digital defenses, including $34 million earmarked to protect the integrity of elections in California. In the last weeks of the Obama administration, the Department of Homeland Security also designated state-run election systems as critical infrastructure, elevating them to the same classification as nuclear reactors and the Hoover Dam. And the FBI and other federal officials are offering free cybersecurity assessments to local election offices.

To date, there’s no evidence that votes were changed or voting machines infected during the 2016 cyberattacks. And election security experts say such threats are remote in any specific jurisdiction, and nearly impossible on a substantial scale.

But the upcoming midterms are the first national election since 2016. And those same election experts caution that attacks remain feasible in some American elections systems, particularly if existing vulnerabilities aren’t fixed.

Risk is low; security high

California’s voting infrastructure is, in many ways, far more secure than those of most other states. Counties in California are legally required to keep paper ballots as fixed records of electronic voting tallies and to hand-count the ballots cast at one percent of all precincts to verify digital totals. That means even if voting machines are compromised, there’s a physical backup to warn of a discrepancy.

That’s not true in 11 states, where voting equipment can’t be audited manually and a hack that alters voting results could go entirely undetected. (Interestingly, most of the un-auditable, all-digital machines in those states were put into use after Florida’s “hanging-chad” debacle during the 2000 presidential election scared officials away from punch-card voting systems to what were perceived as more reliable electronic machines.)

Despite California’s superior safeguards, cybersecurity experts say the state’s voting systems remain susceptible to some forms of attack. Recognizing the threat, election officials in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties all said recently that they’ve become more vigilant since the 2016 campaign and have welcomed help from federal agents to assess their systems.

But implementing fixes has happened at different speeds across the region, with some counties addressing potential vulnerabilities more aggressively than others.

The leader of the pack seems to be Orange County, where four congressional contests in longtime GOP-held districts are being targeted by national Democrats in their effort to take control of the House of Representatives.

In April, Kelley released a 28-page “2018 Election Security Playbook” outlining new security protocols his office has implemented: from improving its ability to detect network intrusions and malware, to encrypting its emails, to enhancing building security, to implementing a third-party cybersecurity audit, to randomly testing its employees by sending them faux phishing emails and seeing if they bite.

The most substantial of the county’s new fixes is its risk-limiting audit – a protection that verifies electronic tallies with an even higher degree of certainty by hand-counting a random sample of paper ballots, with the number of votes scrutinized corresponding to the margin of victory in a given race.

Kelley knows firsthand that malicious actors are constantly probing local voting systems.

At the election security conference, held at UC Irvine in March, Kelley revealed that he and Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters Dean Logan were contacted by federal officials in spring 2016. They warned Kelley that people using overseas IP addresses had prodded his office’s networks in a move that was described as “checking to see if the front door of your house was locked.”

Kelley said his office’s defenses withstood the test, but he immediately worked to strengthen protections anyway.

“We’ve reevaluated every piece of the voting system and process, identified potential vulnerabilities, and made sure those are solid and secure,” said Kelley, who serves on a recently created federal 25-member election security council.

“Even though the risk is low, (the potential for hacking) is being taken very seriously,” he said. “And that should inspire voter confidence, just to know that there’s a different approach being taken to elections than there was in 2016.”

In Los Angeles County, home to another one of the nation’s most competitive congressional races, Logan has educated his staff on cyber threats by having them see firsthand how voting machines can be hacked.

Last year, he sent members of his team to DEF CON in Las Vegas, one of the world’s largest hacker conventions. There, at something called the “Voting Machine Hacking Village,” they watched white-hat hackers “go through and show the vulnerability of voting systems,” a process that helped Logan’s office identify its own potential shortcomings. Since the 2016 elections, the office has upgraded its malware protection and mandated cybersecurity training for staff. It soon will implement vulnerability-assessment and phishing exercises to further test its new systems.

“If we don’t know those vulnerabilities, we can’t respond to them,” Logan said at the conference.

San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Michael Scarpello was more cryptic about what he’d done to enhance election security in his jurisdiction.

Scarpello said his office had been working with federal agents and the county’s IT department to harden its voting systems, website and local voter registration database from attack. He noted the effort was partially in response to a “heightened level of scrutiny, based on what’s going on at a national level.” Scarpello declined to identify any specific security system or protocol changes – and even refused to disclose the federal agency his office worked with.

And in Riverside County, election officials say the FBI and Department of Homeland Security are helping to monitor their network traffic and supplying a list of IP addresses to watch out for.

Riverside County Registrar of Voters Rebecca Spencer said the increased vigilance isn’t in response to a July 2017 Time magazine cover story. In that article, the Riverside County District Attorney stated that hackers had changed a small number of county residents’ voter registration data in advance of the 2016 primary. And unnamed national cybersecurity officials said the incident may have been a “test run by the Russians… (to see) what kind of chaos they could unleash on Election Day.”

Since then, that version of events has been rebuffed by election officials. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office, which operates the state’s voter registration database, said his office had no evidence that voter rolls were breached. And Spencer said her office had identified the cause of nearly all the voter roll changes, many of which occurred because voters simply forgot they had updated their information.

Hacking your confidence

Despite all the recent upgrades to Southern California’s election infrastructure, cybersecurity experts say most voting systems – even bolstered local ones – still have vulnerabilities.

Many Southern California polling places use 15-to-20-year-old voting machines with outdated operating systems that officials acknowledge are less secure than modern versions. While voting machines are tightly protected, some need to be programmed with a separate memory card, which, depending on the offices’ protocols, could be a vehicle for malicious code. And experts say some voting machines are serviced by outside vendors with varying security protocols, sometimes via computers that might occasionally be connected to the internet, providing a pathway for attack.

Another feasible mode of attack, experts say, could target the state’s voter registration system. Intruders might seek to change or delete portions of voter rolls in a way to deter citizens from voting – similar to what was alleged in Riverside County. To prevent such a breach, Padilla’s office has buttressed its information systems in advance of the 2018 elections by conducting an agency-wide security audit, enhancing its server security and replacing antiquated infrastructure. The state also has implemented “increased 24/7 monitoring” to detect and block potential strikes.

“I think we’re in a much better place in 2016 because we really have our antennas up,” UC Irvine law professor Jack Lerner, who studies electronic voting, said of California’s system.

“I don’t think we’re totally safe unless we have a (mandatory risk-limiting) audit, the way experts have recommended. But we’re in way better shape than other jurisdictions.”

Even if the elections systems are never breached, though, many election-security experts worry the intrusions and hacking attempts are damaging elections in a more intangible way.

Mary Beth Long, a former CIA intelligence officer and Assistant Secretary of Defense, said at the UC Irvine conference that a central aim of Russia’s efforts is to foster distrust of the democratic process and amplify divisive dialogues by causing voters to think elections are able to be rigged.

“It sows discord, controversy and a real lack of confidence in our system… And that has a tremendous impact in how we conduct ourselves, and how we move forward with our elections,” Long said.

“We’ll definitely see more (attempts) in 2018 and 2020.”

That knowledge has put election officials and others in a delicate position when deciding whether or not to sound the alarm about potential election security threats and the need to safeguard and modernize voting systems. Tread too softly, and the fixes might never come. Announce the vulnerabilities too loudly, and you risk cultivating skepticism among voters.

“There are election officials who worry that if voters know what the risks are, they might not come to the polling place,” said Alex Halderman, a University of Michigan computer scientist who in 2017 testified before U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about cyber threats to U.S. elections.

“Although studies show that voters who are more aware of cybersecurity issues are just as likely to vote, I think there’s a concern that even talking about these problems is somehow negative,” Halderman said at the UC Irvine conference.

“But if we don’t talk about them, nothing is ever going to get done.”

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D.C. vs. Sacramento? GOP House members target California’s gas tax

With the president and a federal tax bill both less than popular, and talk of a blue wave coming in November, what’s a GOP congressman from California to do?

Take on Sacramento!

Specifically, House Republicans from California are teeing off on SB 1, the gas tax increase passed a year ago by their home state’s Legislature. The effort to repeal the gas tax hike has become a major focus of California’s GOP House delegation.

Reps. Ken Calvert, R-Corona and Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Beach, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, are among the top donors to the committee hoping to get a gas tax repeal measure on the November ballot. House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise have pitched in as well, state campaign finance records show.

Calvert alone has contributed $200,000 in campaign funds to the repeal drive. Joined by Inland Republican Assembly candidate Bill Essayli, Calvert hand delivered boxloads of repeal petitions to the Riverside County Registrar of Voters on Tuesday, May 1.

Calvert, who represents much of western Riverside County, said the bill to raise the state’s gas tax was not written “in the interests of people driving cars.”

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He contends gas tax money will be spent on items like bike lanes and projects outside the Inland Empire region, and not on better roads for Inland motorists.

“If they were getting something out of it, that’d be one thing,” Calvert said. “But they’re not getting a damn thing out of it. It made me angry.”

Rep. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Beach (File photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Rep. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Beach (File photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

“Unwilling to reduce state spending, Sacramento increased the state gas tax and vehicle fees, squeezing taxpayers’ wallets once again. Last year, Senate Bill 1 increased the state gas tax and vehicle registration fees to raise $52 billion over the next decade, some of which will be spent on non-infrastructure projects like local planning grants and transportation research,” Walters, whose campaign has spent more than $100,000 on the repeal effort, wrote in a March 24 op-ed in The Orange County Register.

Republicans clearly think opposing the gas tax increase is “a potential winning strategy,” said Marcia Godwin, a professor of public administration at the University of La Verne.

In a master’s level class, “we have discussed how many people, regardless of party identification, have a negative reaction to gas tax increases because they directly experience the effects every time they go to the pump,” Godwin said.

“Those who are already struggling to pay their bills or to afford decent housing do not have the option to switch to other forms of transportation or reduce their commute times.”

Repeal backers are optimistic they have enough voter signatures to qualify the repeal, which would reverse the 12-cent-per-gallon gas tax hike – it goes up in subsequent years – as well as new vehicle fees and a higher diesel sales tax that are key to funding more than $50 billion for road repairs and other transportation projects over the next decade.

The funding package, known as SB 1, barely cleared the two-thirds threshold required for passage and forced Democrats to muster every vote in their legislative supermajority in April 2017.

Turnout boost?

If it qualifies, a repeal ballot measure could be a get-out-the-vote tool for a California GOP yearning to mobilize its base.

Democrats, who dominate the state’s political landscape, have their sights set on flipping Orange County seats held by Walters and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa and taking two seats being vacated by the retiring Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, and Ed Royce, R-Yorba Linda. On a national level, nonpartisan political forecasters predict the GOP could lose control of the House and perhaps the Senate in the November mid-terms.

Compounding the GOP’s problems are President Donald Trump’s dismal poll numbers in a state he lost decisively to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Two-thirds of California’s registered voters view Trump unfavorably, according to a UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll released May 2.

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Nationally, the federal tax code overhaul spearheaded by Republicans is touted as a signature achievement of the GOP-controlled Congress. But it’s polling poorly in California – 58 percent disapprove, according to a Public Policy Institute of California poll released in March – and Democrats are using the bill against Republicans on the grounds it raises Californians’ taxes by eliminating popular state and local deductions.

What’s more, there’s a strong chance that the November election for governor and U.S. Senate won’t feature a Republican. California’s top-two primary system advances the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, and until recently, Republican candidates for governor and senator trailed Democrats for second place in polls.

“Without a draw at the top of the ticket, GOP turnout could crater, leading to GOP losses in races for Congress and the Legislature,” said Jack Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College.

“Republicans will definitely support a measure to roll back the gas tax. The question is whether it would increase GOP turnout. A strong ‘No’ campaign could dampen enthusiasm for the initiative.”

“End of the game”

By concentrating on the gas tax, “Republicans are desperate to turn the focus away from their toxic agenda and their enabling of the most corrupt and dysfunctional White House in history,” said John Vigna, communications director for the California Democratic Party.

“This is desperate, delusional thinking on their part,” Vigna added.”The voters are sick and tired of our busted roads and bridges, and they are absolutely nauseated by the stench of corruption and incompetence coming off the Trump Republican Party.”

Calvert disagrees, saying the suggestion that the gas-tax focus is the GOP’s attempt to distract voters is “a bunch of bull.”

“I’m still a citizen of the state of California,” Calvert said. “And when I see bad legislation which costs people of the state of California and hard-working families, I’m interested in pursuing those issues.”

A key is a general disagreement about how much money the gas tax will generate for new roads and related projects.

Calvert says just 5 percent of the revenue collected by SB1 can be used to add road capacity.

Fix Our Roads Coalition, an alliance of business, labor and local government groups that lobbied for SB 1’s passage, says the figure is much higher. They argue that just Riverside and San Bernardino counties collectively stand to receive nearly $2 billion in SB1 money over the next decade, with money going for 63 projects aimed are relieving gridlock, according to a coalition fact sheet.

“The repeal is being funded by D.C. Republicans and their party leaders for purely political reasons; to re-elect Republican politicians,” said Michael Quigley, executive director of the California Alliance of Jobs, which is a coalition member.

“In the process of protecting themselves, they are willing to leave Californians with unsafe bridges, crumbling roads and traffic congestion.”

John Hakel, executive director of the Southern California Partnership for Jobs, which is part of the coalition, said he wonders where California House Republicans were when SB 1 was being debated.

“Why didn’t they come back from D.C. to Sacramento and testify against (SB 1)?” he said. “It’s kind of the end of the game and now you want to go back and change the score.”

Calvert said the legislature “is not interested in what Republicans think; that’s obvious.”

“(The legislature takes) other people’s money and spend it the way they want to spend it,” he added.

“Why is it unfair for the people of California to have an opportunity to vote on this?”

Federal gas tax

SB 1 represented the first increase in California’s gas tax since 1994. The federal gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1993.

Trump and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which typically supports Republicans, have called for the federal tax to be raised to help fund much-needed infrastructure repairs. Walters opposes a federal gas-tax hike, and Calvert said: “Until we can spend money effectively and efficiently, I’m not raising taxes on anybody.”

California Republicans “may have to do some creative reasoning to support a federal infrastructure bill,” Godwin said.

“It is a key part of the federal Republican agenda. Passage may take place independent of new funding or other funds shifted around to cover the cost. There may also be optimistic projections about federal revenues as long as the economy continues to do well.”

  • Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, left, with Bill Essayli, a candidate for the 60th Assembly District, deliver boxes of signatures to the Riverside County Registrar of Voters at Riverside County Registrar-Voter in Riverside, Calif. on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. The signatures are for a ballot measure to repeal the state’s gas tax hike. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

    Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, left, with Bill Essayli, a candidate for the 60th Assembly District, deliver boxes of signatures to the Riverside County Registrar of Voters at Riverside County Registrar-Voter in Riverside, Calif. on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. The signatures are for a ballot measure to repeal the state’s gas tax hike. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, right, delivers boxes of signatures to election technician Tralyn Davis at Riverside County Registrar of Voters in Riverside, Calif. on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. The signatures are for a ballot measure to repeal the state’s gas tax hike. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

    Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, right, delivers boxes of signatures to election technician Tralyn Davis at Riverside County Registrar of Voters in Riverside, Calif. on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. The signatures are for a ballot measure to repeal the state’s gas tax hike. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

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  • Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona delivers boxes of signatures to the Riverside County Registrar of Voters at Riverside County Registrar-Voter in Riverside, Calif. on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. The signatures are for a ballot measure to repeal the state’s gas tax hike. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

    Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona delivers boxes of signatures to the Riverside County Registrar of Voters at Riverside County Registrar-Voter in Riverside, Calif. on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. The signatures are for a ballot measure to repeal the state’s gas tax hike. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, left, and Bill Essayli, a candidate for the 60th Assembly District, center, deliver boxes of signatures to election technician Tralyn Davis at Riverside County Registrar of Voters in Riverside, Calif. on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. The signatures are for a ballot measure to repeal the state’s gas tax hike. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

    Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, left, and Bill Essayli, a candidate for the 60th Assembly District, center, deliver boxes of signatures to election technician Tralyn Davis at Riverside County Registrar of Voters in Riverside, Calif. on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. The signatures are for a ballot measure to repeal the state’s gas tax hike. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, left, with Bill Essayli, a candidate for the 60th Assembly District, deliver boxes of signatures to the Riverside County Registrar of Voters at Riverside County Registrar-Voter in Riverside, Calif. on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. The signatures are for a ballot measure to repeal the state’s gas tax hike. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

    Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, left, with Bill Essayli, a candidate for the 60th Assembly District, deliver boxes of signatures to the Riverside County Registrar of Voters at Riverside County Registrar-Voter in Riverside, Calif. on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. The signatures are for a ballot measure to repeal the state’s gas tax hike. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

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Mail-in primary ballots arrive this week; here’s what’s happening

Primary election day is June 5 in California and local communities. But balloting actually begins May 7 — this Monday. That’s the start of voting by mail.

For people who have avoided thinking about politics for as long as they could, time’s up. Here’s a refresher about what’s at stake in the next month.

In this election between presidential elections, voters here will begin to decide who leads California, with primaries to select the two candidates to advance to the Nov. 6 general elections in races for governor, seven other statewide offices, every Assembly seat and half of the state Senate, and the state Board of Equalization. They’ll also begin to choose California’s representatives in Washington, D.C., with a U.S. Senate seat and all U.S. House seats in play. And they’ll start to select who’ll hold many municipal offices and judgeships.

Some themes will be pervasive.

The #MeToo movement, which hangs over several races for the state Legislature in Los Angeles County, has brought out a record number of women candidates, hoping to increase their numbers in Sacramento and Washington. Also, young voters — many who registered during pro gun control marches related to the Parkland shooting — are expected to turn out in higher numbers than usual, even as 84-year-old U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein seeks her sixth six-year term. And the partisan battle for control of the U.S. House, with Democrats targeting at least a half-dozen Republican-held seats in California, could energize voters of all stripes.

Donald Trump isn’t on any ballot — or you could say he’s on almost every ballot as Democratic candidates play up their opposition to the president whose record-low approval percentages nationally are even lower in California’s major cities.

“A lot of them [the elections] are about Trump, and the divisions that are so raw in this country among people who follow politics,” said Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at Cal State Los Angeles. “This doesn’t mean we’ll get record [voter] turnout, but there is a heightened sense that these elections matter.”

These are the contests likely to get the most attention in the weeks before election day:

GOVERNOR: Jerry Brown, now 80, is leaving office because of term limits. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, another Democrat, has led the polls. It was long assumed the race would boil down to Newsom and Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa, a battle of former San Francisco and L.A. mayors. But some polls show Villaraigosa fighting for the second spot in the top-two primary against Democrat John Chiang and Republicans John Cox and Travis Allen.

CONGRESS: Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats in the 435-member House of Representatives to seize the majority and take control from Republicans. The districts they’re targeting include seven in California where voters in ’16 elected GOP representatives even as they picked Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump for president. Five of those districts are in Southern California, including two in Orange County where incumbent Republicans (Dana Rohrabacher and Mimi Walters) are hoping to keep the seats, and two others in the county where long-time GOP representatives (Darrell Issa and Ed Royce) are retiring, and one in northern L.A. county where Republican Steve Knight hopes to keep the seat.

STATE LEGISLATURE: Sexual harassment scandals in state government hang over several races for the Legislature, all involving Democrat-controlled districts in L.A. County. Special elections will fill out the terms of Raul Bocanegra and Matt Dababneh, assemblymen from the San Fernando Valley who resigned after multiple accusations of sexual misconduct. (The race for Dababneh’s seat includes 19-year-old Republican Justin Clark, who could become the youngest known legislator in California history.) A special-election primary will fill out the term of Tony Mendoza, a senator from Artesia who resigned after being accused of sexual harassment, only to remain on the ballot for the special election.  Also, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, is running for re-election while on voluntary, paid leave during an investigation of sexual harassment charges against her.

Potentially confusing for many voters is this: The special elections to fill out remaining terms of resigning legislators occur on the same day as the primaries in the regular elections for the next full term of those same legislative offices.

In another unusual state legislative contest, Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, faces a recall election. Republicans started the recall drive after Newman voted in favor of California’s gas-tax increase.

State legislative election results in November will determine if Democrats regain their hold on two-thirds of the Assembly and Senate. Democrats currently are one seat short in each house of the two-thirds “supermajority” that would allow them to, among other things, pass tax increases without Republican members’ votes.

Voters have until May 21 to register to vote and until May 29 to request vote-by-mail ballots (see the sample ballot that comes in the mail). For those who have already requested mail-in ballots or have arranged for permanent vote-by-mail status, the ballots will be sent out starting May 7; so many Californians could fill out their votes in the next few days.

Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by June 5 and arrive at county election offices by June 8 to be counted.

The percentage of votes cast by mail in Californians has grown steadily in the past 50 years from the low single digits — back when, ostensibly, only people traveling out of town used what was known as “absentee voting.” The past six state election primaries have all seen more than half of the votes cast by mail, including 69.4 percent in the 2014 primary.

Southern Californians can get more information about voting from election officials in Los Angeles County at 800-815-2666 and www.lavote.net/home/voting-elections, Orange County at 714-567-7600 and ocvote.com, Riverside County at 951-486-7200 and voteinfo.net, and San Bernardino County at 800-881-VOTE and sbcountyelections.com.

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