Protecting Equal Access in a Diverse Democracy: Voting Rights in the Golden State

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New Report Shows More Work Needed in California to Expand Access to the Polls

Highlighting testimony from the 2014 California voting rights hearing sponsored by the National Commission on Voting Rights, Protecting Equal Access in a Diverse Democracy: Voting Rights in the Golden State, outlines the challenges that CA voters continue to face:

  • Barriers to access for voters with limited English proficiency
  • Redistricting processes that limit the number of seats where minorities can elect their candidate of choice
  • Racially polarized voting and the additional safeguards needed when groups vote along racial lines
  • Systemic barriers facing voters with disabilities and the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated

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Counties that Failed to Draw Additional Majority Latino Districts

Thomas Saenz, President and General Counsel of MALDEF testified about problems with the redistricting of county boards of supervisors after the 2010 Census. Mr. Saenz identified 10 out of the state’s 58 counties, that “failed to draw a Latino majority supervisorial district even though there was evidence before them of the ability to do so and the existence of racially polarized voting.” According to Saenz, these coun­ties with growing Latino populations continue to lag behind in the creation of Latino majority districts, as illustrated below:

Counties that should have drawn their first Latino majority district, but failed to do so:

1 Orange County Orange County
1 Orange County Santa Barbara

County Counties that should have drawn their second Latino majority district, but failed to do so:

1 Orange County Los Angeles County
1 Orange County Ventura County
1 Orange County San Bernardino County
1 Orange County Riverside County
1 Orange County Kern County
1 Orange County Tulare County
1 Orange County Fresno County

Counties that should have drawn their third Latino majority district, but failed to do so:

1 Orange County Monterey County (formerly a Section 5 jurisdiction)

*Ten counties identified as by Thomas Saenz, MALDEF.

2012 Population Data Source: US Census

Brief History of Key Voting Cases and Legislation in California

Hearing Videos

Additional Hearing Highlights

Voter Intimidation

  • “[In 2008] [p]olling places [in East L.A.] themselves were intimidating to voters who identify as LGBT, including myself, and those supportive of LGBT issues when the voting booths [are] on the property of faith institutions. These sites were often…the same locations community members heard from…on pulpit and radio, urging a vote in favor of the anti LGBT initiative [Proposition 8]… [P]olling places should be located on neutral grounds where voters can cast their vote without direct or indirect intimidation. Never should a voter feel suspect or be remorseful in casting a vote that may or may not be in line with the teachings of the facility acting as a poling location as I dared to do that year.” —Arie Gutierrez, Founder of Latino Equality Alliance (page 71 of transcript)
  • An isolated but egregious case of misconduct in Southern California was a report from a San Diego County voter who was informed "you are a wetback" when he gave the poll worker his name. Jennifer K. del Castillo California Election Protection Coalition

Election Administration Problems

Witnesses also testified about election administration problems, including: 
  • Incorrect Ballots Sent to Voters in Fresno, CA
    • In Fresno, during the 2012 elections, some precincts received two different vote-by-mail ballots, which created great confusion among some voters. Due to a mistake in the mapping process, these precincts were incorrectly left out of a school district trustee area, therefore their original ballot did not include the school district trustee race that should have been included. When the County became aware of the mistake, it sent a letter to the voters in these precincts informing them that their original vote-by-mail ballot had been cancelled and including a replacement ballot. 
    • A Fresno voter contacted the Election Protection Coalition and reported that “she had already voted, and a few days later…she received a new ballot. She was concerned that people who had already voted may not want to do it again, and they might not remember their previous votes and generally be confused and dismayed.” —Aida S. Macedo, Fresno Election Protection Coalition
  • A voter who was homeless reports having been denied the right to vote: “I was precluded from voting in 2012 because I did not have a home address. I had been staying at several friends' homes because I could not afford an apartment, due to unemployment. Our family has had a post office box for years and I was told I could not use that, despite the fact it is in my voting district. I now have a place to live, but what disturbs me still is that homeless people apparently are second class citizens who, though no fault of their own, have lost the right to vote because they are poor and severely marginalized as a result. —Martin Sheridan
  • The Election Protection Coalition received numerous “numerous reports of excessive provisional balloting in the City Hall polling place—which serves three precincts in a predominantly low-income, African-American and Latino community…the entire polling place ran out of provisional ballots before 10:00am on Election Day.” —Joanna Cuevas Ingram, California Election Protection Coalition