California voters with limited English language skills were too often left on their own when it came to getting help casting ballots last November, concludes a sweeping new survey based on eyewitness accounts logged by hundreds of election volunteers. The data raise significant questions about the effectiveness of a long-standing state election law designed to help those voters, and whether they will struggle more as counties are allowed to transition away from traditional neighborhood polling places. “We’re talking about huge chunks of the electorate that are in danger of being disenfranchised,” said Jonathan Stein, a staff attorney with Asian Americans Advancing Justice-California.
The report comes as state lawmakers consider a bill to strengthen the rights of voters in communities whose primary language isn’t English. That proposal, Assembly Bill 918, faces a key legislative deadline in Sacramento later this month.
Language assistance during an election is covered by both federal and state law. In 1975, the federal Voting Rights Act was expanded beyond its historical focus on African American communities to require that “all election material that is available in English” also be provided “in the language of the applicable minority group.” Census data on voting-age adults are used to determine which counties must comply.