Governor Signs Bonta’s AB 918 to Expand Voting Access

Monday, October 16, 2017

Provides Additional Language Translations for Limited-English Proficient Voters

(Sacramento, CA) - Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 918 which increases language access at the voting booth for limited-English proficient citizens. AB 918, authored by Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), will increase voter participation by providing translated copies of ballots in polling places and translated signage to inform voters about their availability and the languages spoken by poll workers. AB 918 will mandate accountability measures to ensure counties are recruiting bilingual poll workers to ensure all California voters can effectively cast their ballots.

“No American should be denied the privilege and duty of voting because of a language barrier,” said Bonta. “As the state with the most immigrants and the most limited-English voters, California has an obligation to be on the leading edge of providing language assistance in elections. California’s current language access requirements are not sufficient to provide meaningful language assistance to limited-English proficient voters and lack any reporting or oversight mechanisms.”

Section 203 of the Federal Voting Rights Act guarantees language access protections for many limited-English proficient voters, however many minority language communities across California are not large enough to meet Section 203’s thresholds.

Roughly 550,000 Latinos and Asian Americans who are limited-English proficient live in counties not covered by Section 203, and thus rely on state law for language access in voting.

Moreover, Latinos and Asian Americans have by far the lowest voter turnout of all racial/ethnic groups. In California’s 2014 general election, just 17% of eligible Latinos and 18% of Asian Americans voted. Language barriers contribute to these low turnout rates.

“Now that AB 918 is law, no state in the nation does more than California to ensure access to voting for limited-English speaking immigrant voters,” said Jonathan Stein, Voting Rights Staff Attorney and Program Manager at Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus, who co-sponsored AB 918. "We have an obligation to lead and now we will.”

“As California continues to diversify, the state has an obligation to update its laws in order to have an inclusive and representative democracy. AB 918 not only reduces barriers to voting for limited-English voters, it also makes California a nationwide leader in ensuring access to the fundamental right to vote,” Bonta concluded.

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Assemblymember Rob Bonta represents the 18th Assembly District, which includes Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro and is the Assistant Majority Leader and Chair of the Asian Pacific Islander (API) Legislative Caucus.