Bonta Joins Sponsors of AB 918, ‘The California Voting Rights For All Act’ to Release Data Showing Voting Deficiencies
(Sacramento, CA) – During Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and sponsors of AB 918, ‘The California Voting For All Act,’ are focusing attention on the urgent need to improve California’s language assistance to its limited-English proficient voters.
AB 918 will increase voter participation among Asian Americans, Latinos, and other minority communities across California by implementing reasonable steps to improve access. AB 918 would ensure that translated copies of ballots, known as facsimile ballots, are more available to voters. The bill would also provide training for poll workers on proper handling of these translated ballots.
“Voting is the centerpiece of our democracy and the most essential means through which citizens are able to make their voices heard,” said Bonta. “California’s current language access requirements do not provide adequate language assistance to limited-English proficient voters. Without sufficient access to voting, immigrant communities face unacceptable barriers to civic engagement.”
Although California has voting laws which are stronger than the federal government requires, compliance with these state regulations by counties is not consistent.
New data gathered during the November 2016 General Election by Asian Americans Advancing Justice – California (AAAJ) found that facsimile ballots were missing from a variety of polling locations. And those locations that had facsimile ballots did not post them in a conspicuous location, as required by law. AAAJ also found that elections offices did not adequately educate voters or train poll workers as to their availability.
"As the state with the most immigrant voters and most limited-English voters, California has an obligation to lead the nation on providing language assistance in voting," said Jonathan Stein, voting rights program manager at Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus. "Right now our state law is failing those voters. AB 918 would fix known problems and make California a nationwide leader on ensuring access for all voters."
AB 918 will create new language access requirements as well as help ensure compliance with existing language access laws for voters. It will require counties to file a public report with the Secretary of State after every statewide general election documenting their performance in recruiting bilingual poll workers. Voting statistics demonstrate the urgent need for this legislation.
"As Mi Familia Vota did voter outreach last year, we worked with countless voters who could not understand an English ballot. Our staff helped where we could but what we really need is systemic improvements. AB 918 is the bill California's limited-English speaking voters deserve," said Samuel Molina, the California director for Mi Familia Vota.
The impact on citizens who are not proficient in English is tremendous.
“Less than 20 percent of Asians who are eligible to vote actually turn out,” said Bonta. “We have a serious problem. As the Chair of the API Caucus, it’s clear we must take action to ensure equal access to democracy.”
The bill is joint-authored by Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles), co-authored by Assemblymember Dr. Joaquin Arambula, Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, Assemblymember Chris Holden, and Assemblymember Ash Kalra. It’s sponsored by Asian Americans Advancing Justice - California and numerous voting rights organizations.
“A language barrier should never deny any American the opportunity to vote. This is a fundamental privilege and duty that must be exercised with full understanding,” Bonta said. “AB 918 is a win-win as it creates greater civic engagement in our democracy and allows more citizens to let their diverse voices be heard,” Bonta concluded.
Assemblymember Rob Bonta represents the 18th Assembly District, which includes the cities of Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro and is the Assistant Majority Leader and Chair of the Asian Pacific Islander (API) Legislative Caucus.