California Legislature Moves to Protect Voters Rights Amid Pandemic

Thursday, August 6, 2020

SACRAMENTO - Today, Senate Bill 423, authored by Senator Thomas J. Umberg (D-Santa Ana), Chair of the Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments, and Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park), Chair of the Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting, was passed by the California State Senate with a bipartisan vote of 29-4.

SB 423 would protect public health and voting rights before the 2020 General Election by requiring California election officials to provide safe and accessible polling places or vote centers. Safe and accessible voting locations are critical for protecting voter rights for all Californians. For many voters, the services they need to vote privately and independently are available at polling sites. SB 423 guarantees that voters will have safe, secure, and convenient in-person opportunities to cast their ballots in case voting by mail is not a viable option for them for the statewide general election held on November 3, 2020. The measure requires county elections officials to establish, and maintain, a minimum number of polling places and vote centers.

“Safe and healthy in-person voting options this November are absolutely a necessity. Protecting the right to vote is a key part of our jobs as elected officials -- in spite of Donald Trump’s efforts to undermine, and cast aspersions on the voting rights of Californians and the upcoming election,” said Senator Umberg. “We will persist and ensure that there will be clean and sanitary voting locations that are able provide valuable services like Election-Day registration, language assistance with ballots, disability assistance with voting, and more.” California must make sure that there’s enough polling places in the communities that need them, and especially in underserved communities that have low rates of vote-by-mail usage.”

AB 860, jointly authored by Senator Umberg and Assemblymember Berman, was signed into law in June, requiring county elections officials to mail a ballot to every registered voter for the November election. Expanded use of voting by mail, paired with safe and sanitary polling locations, is the surest way to protect poll workers and voters alike. 

“By mailing every voter a ballot while also preserving the right to vote in person, we have ensured that the upcoming election will be safe, secure, and accessible for every voter throughout California,” said Assemblymember Marc Berman. “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused tremendous uncertainty, but one thing that’s for certain is that no Californian will be forced to jeopardize their health to vote.” 

Voting Locations Still Needed

While institutions and organizations across the state battle COVID-19, many of the venues that normally serve as polling places and vote centers--such as senior centers, churches, and private halls--may not be available. As of mid-July, half of California counties have indicated that they still need to secure and confirm voting locations for the General Election.

“Many counties are in urgent need of new polling locations that meet public health guidelines, including physical distancing,” Secretary of State Alex Padilla added. “We are working with all counties to identify and secure new locations and to recruit new poll workers, but each county is at a different level of readiness. I urge cities, schools, colleges, business owners, and community based organizations with facilities that can accommodate voting to consider hosting a polling location.”

“In 2018 Sacramento County was the largest county in California to pilot the Voter’s Choice Act – giving our voters options to register and cast their vote through a variety of ways,” said Courtney Bailey-Kanelos, Registrar of Voters, Sacramento County. “This flexibility and accessibility lead to not only record voter registration year over year, but record voter turnout. However, finding locations to host Vote Centers is harder than ever. In Sacramento we have only secured 39, less than half of our target of 84 locations. We’re asking that community organizations and businesses all over California partner with your local Elections Office to ensure all voters have a choice in how they vote this November.”

Any business or organization with a venue that may be suitable to serve as a voting location should contact their county elections office or the Secretary of State’s office at democracyatwork@sos.ca.gov.

SB 423 now awaits action by Governor Gavin Newsom.

 

Contacts:

Kaitlin Curry  Kaitlin.Curry@asm.ca.gov, (916) 319-2024 (Berman)

Michael Henning  Michael.Henning@sen.ca.gov, (916) 651-4034 (Umberg) 

Sam Mahood SMahood@sos.ca.gov, (916) 653-6575 (Padilla)