AB 817, Bonta Bill to Increase Language Access for Voters, Passes Senate Policy Committee

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

(SACRAMENTO, CA) – Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) today announced the passage of AB 817 by the Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments.  There are currently almost 3 million eligible California voters who are not fully proficient in English.  In order to support and protect these individuals’ fundamental right to vote, the federal government instituted requirements for counties to recruit a minimum number of multilingual poll workers.  AB 817 assists both the voters and the counties in this process by allowing up to five lawful permanent residents to work at the polls and provide language assistance services on Election Day.

“As citizens, eligible California voters who are not fully proficient in English have an absolute right to make fully-informed voting decisions on Election Day. AB 817 helps ensure that our state’s voters have the resources necessary to participate fully in our democratic process,” said Assemblymember Bonta.

The Asian Law Caucus, Asian Pacific American Legal Center, and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund are co-sponsors of the bill. "This bill will help ensure that the 2.1 million eligible voters with limited English ability are able to exercise their right to vote as U.S. citizens," said Carlo De La Cruz of the Asian Law Caucus. "On Election Day we see too many voters in line at the polls waiting to receive proper assistance.  By expanding the pool of who can assist our voters at the polls, we've taken a necessary step towards strengthening our Democracy for all Californian voters and aspiring citizens."

"California's poll workers stand at the 'frontline' on Election Day, and their assistance helps ensure that all U.S. citizens, including those not yet fully proficient in English, can participate in the electoral process. We commend the State Senate Elections Committee for recognizing that AB 817 will make California's democracy more responsive to the voices of all of its potential voters, and we urge the State Senate to enact the legislation swiftly," said the Executive Director of the NALEO Educational Fund, Arturo Vargas.

Eugene Lee, Voting Rights Project Director at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC), said, “APALC has spearheaded poll monitoring efforts for years, and one thing we’ve consistently observed is that limited English speaking voters struggle to cast their ballots when bilingual poll workers are unavailable to assist them.  AB 817 will strengthen our democracy by promoting greater availability of bilingual assistance.”

Assemblymember Bonta concluded: “By allowing lawful permanent residents to participate in the elections process as poll workers, AB 817 will also increase civic engagement and encourage progress along the pathway towards citizenship.”

AB 817 now moves to the Senate Floor.

Assemblymember Bonta represents the 18th Assembly District, which includes Oakland, Alameda and San Leandro. He is the Chair of the Assembly Public Employees, Retirement, and Social Security Committee and the Select Committee on Gun Violence in the East Bay. He is a member of the Assembly Health, Transportation, Banking & Finance, and Elections & Redistricting Committees.

Contact: Amy Alley – (916) 319-2387