We believe in expanding and protecting the voting rights of AAPI communities and all immigrant communities, to ensure full participation of all eligible voters in the electoral process. Many immigrants still face unnecessary barriers to the ballot. Discrimination rarely manifests overtly in California elections today, unlike voting problems seen in other states, but there are many ways that discrimination still plays an unseen hand in preventing Asian Americans, immigrant communities, and limited-English speaking voters from receiving full and equal access to the democratic process.
As the state with the most immigrant voters and the most limited-English proficient (LEP) voters in the nation, California has an obligation to be on the cutting edge of ensuring access to the ballot for diverse communities. One way we protect that access is by operating poll monitoring programs (also known as election observing) during most major California elections. Our poll monitor volunteers visit polling places across Northern California and the Central Valley to ensure that: voters receive the language assistance they are guaranteed under both federal and state law, voters are not being intimidated or harassed when voting, polling places are accessible to people with disabilities, and more.
In the June 2018 primary, we specifically monitored for compliance with the recently passed California Voting for All Act (AB 918, Bonta), which was sponsored by Asian Americans Advancing Justice – California and significantly expanded language access at the polls. In November 2016, we operated the largest field poll monitoring program in the nation. See below for more info.
Voices of Democracy and the California Voting for All Act (AB 918)
“Voices of Democracy” is the most comprehensive examination ever undertaken of the language assistance available to California’s limited-English proficient voters. It is based on the findings of the nation’s largest field poll monitoring effort in the November 2016 elections, in which 576 volunteers organized by Advancing Justice – ALC and our sister organization Advancing Justice – LA (along with partner organizations!) visited almost 1,300 polling places across California to determine compliance with federal and state language access laws.
Report results are available in infographic form here.
The report’s findings show that the provisions of California state law that at that time were supposed to guarantee translated ballot materials and bilingual poll workers to LEP voters were both not strong enough and not consistently complied with. The report helped set the stage for the California Voting for All Act (AB 918, Bonta), which was passed in 2017 and, if implemented properly, will solve many of the problems highlighted in the “Voices of Democracy” report. It is the strongest state-level language-access-in-elections law in the nation. You can see a fact sheet about AB 918 here.
We previously monitored hundreds of poll sites in the 2010 and 2012 elections in Bay Area counties and Sacramento County. Our 2012 findings were released in the Section 203 Voices of Democracy 2012 report produced by the Asian Americans Advancing Justice affiliation.
Redistricting/Districting Advocacy and Lawsuits
Click here for Advancing Justice – ALC’s Guide to Best Practices in Districting. Advancing Justice – ALC also has a Guide to Districting Law that is available upon request.
Every ten years, political boundaries are redrawn to adjust for population changes. Districts must be redrawn so that each elected official is representing approximately the same number of people. It is a complex process and many Californians do not or are unable to provide input on how the boundaries should be drawn.
Redistricting is especially important for communities of color, because redistricting has historically been used to keep them from power (often known as racial gerrymandering). How and where districts are drawn will often determine if a community can elect representatives of their choice to sit on local school boards and city councils and in state legislatures and Congress. Whether a community is kept whole or split apart by district lines will also determine whether elected officials respond to that community’s needs.
Following the 2010 decennial Census, Advancing Justice – ALC participated in a statewide effort with the Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans for Fair Redistricting (CAPAFR) to ensure that Asian American communities were kept whole in state and local districting. Among other activities, Advancing Justice – ALC brought together diverse communities in Northern California to testify before the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, keeping Daly City whole (instead of split into two legislative districts, as was the case in 2001) and ensuring that the Excelsior and Visitacion Valley areas of San Francisco were united with the Bayview, SOMA, and Chinatown in the same Assembly district.
Satorre v. San Mateo
In 2011, Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus joined as co-counsel with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and the firm Arnold & Porter in a lawsuit against the County of San Mateo alleging claims under the California Voting Rights Act. San Mateo was the only county remaining in the state that still used an at-large voting system for County Supervisor seats, which had the effect of diluting minority vote. Over the preceding two decades, the Asian American and Latino communities had grown tremendously but Asian Americans and Latinos had been unable to win Supervisor seats.
The lawsuit successfully brought a CVRA claim against the County, replacing the at-large election system with a by-district election system that increased access to power for communities of color and included a majority-minority Asian American district.
Currently, the CVRA is being challenged on constitutional grounds in federal court by conservative activists. We are seeking to join with other civil rights organizations in intervening in that lawsuit, so we can help defend the law.
Full participation in the Census is critically important for having our communities counted and enabling our communities to achieve political representation. In 2010, Advancing Justice – ALC partnered with a network of SF-based organizations to ensure that Hard to Count communities in San Francisco responded to the Census questionnaire. In 2018-2020, Advancing Justice – ALC will be working with networks in San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Joaquin Counties to ensure that our communities’ participation is not jeopardized by underfunding, the Trump Administration’s inclusion of a citizenship question, and the climate of fear created by the President, ICE, and others.
The voting rights program also:
- Helps lead the California Student Votes Project, which expands access to voter registration for students at the state’s three public higher education systems.
- Works with elections offices and community leaders in San Mateo and Napa Counties on the implementation of the Voter’s Choice Act, and works with a statewide network of voting rights and civic engagement groups on the same.
- Partners with San Francisco community organizations and the county elections office on the implementation on Prop N, allow noncitizen parents to vote in San Francisco school elections.