A bill to strengthen voter protections under the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) was approved today by the State Assembly. SB 1365 by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) expands the CVRA by explicitly prohibiting school boards, cities, and counties from gerrymandering district boundaries in a manner that would weaken the ability of a racial or language minority to influence the outcome of an election. Current state law only allows a challenge of at-large elections. The bill now goes to the State Senate for a final concurrence vote and then to the Governor’s desk. “With today’s vote, we are one step closer to strengthening voting rights for all Californians,” said Senator Alex Padilla. “As our state becomes increasingly diverse we must ensure that the rights of all voters are protected,” added Padilla.
In 2002, Governor Davis signed the CVRA, which expanded upon the federal Voting Rights Act by requiring that at-large elections not have the effect of diluting or denying the political representation of minority groups. As a result, California has seen many legal challenges to at-large elections and many school boards, cities, and counties have transitioned from at-large elections to district elections.
However, nothing in state law protects minority voters from districts drawn to dilute their influence. Moving from at-large elections to district elections is only an improvement if the new district boundaries are drawn fairly. Districts drawn inconsistent with the spirit of the CVRA can have the same negative impact on voter turnout and representation as at-large elections. SB 1365 will create a process for the public to challenge district lines that undermine the influence of minority communities.