Advocates Call on County and Statewide Officials to Prioritize Voter Access and Voter Safety Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic
SACRAMENTO – Today, a coalition of advocacy, labor, immigration, women’s health, youth, democracy rights, science and environmental organizations celebrate the leadership of Senator Umberg, Assemblymember Berman, Governor Newsom and Secretary of State Padilla to secure voting access for historically disenfranchised communities under the COVID-19 pandemic. As a convergence of three historic crises—COVID-19, the resulting economic recession, and the crisis of racist police violence and power abuses—hit communities of color the hardest, it is critical that California upholds and bolsters authentic democracy in our state and be a model for the rest of the country.
By protecting the right to vote, this November, Californians will be able to exercise their decision-making power to transform violence against Black and Indigenous people of color, low income, queer and gender-expansive people impacted from overcriminalization and poverty, to bring forward resources for our families, strengthen our schools and social safety nets, and create public accountability.
Newly signed into law, Senate Bill 423, alongside Assembly Bill 860 signed on June 18th, will jointly address historic issues of access and equity at the ballot on November 3rd by requiring universal mail and in-person voting options. These two bills lay out critical protections to ensure that voting will be safe, secure, and accessible this November. We celebrate joint efforts by advocates, the legislature, the Secretary of State and the Governor to swiftly pass and implement legislation to fully fund in-person vote locations, universal vote by mail, and a robust voter education program outlined in AB 860 and SB 423.
“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 to 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.”
“Once again, California’s leaders have set the standard for the rest of the nation, by passing SB423. While we applaud the legislature, it is important to note that the work to ensure safe and fair elections in the midst of COVID is far from over. Voter registration is already down, and it’s time for all of us to do our part to restore a healthy democracy with this election,” said Irene Kao, Executive Director and President of Courage California. “State leaders, county leaders, community organizers and advocates, national and local media — it’s time for everyone to step up as the trusted messengers our communities need to combat misinformation and provide reliable information to ensure all Californians know how to safely exercise their right to vote in the General Election. With courage, we can make certain this global pandemic does not result in historic levels of voter disenfranchisement — and we can ensure all communities have the ability to safely elect the representatives who can lead us out of these uncertain times.”
“The communities who have suffered the worst impacts of COVID-19 are the same neighborhoods in which racism and white supremacy has had the deepest repercussions. In order to respond to the public health crisis and to vote safely, SB 423 and AB 860 fully funds and uphold in-person voting opportunities for this November’s elections,” said Mabel Tsang, CEJA Action Civic Engagement Manager. “Voters should not be made to falsely choose between their health or casting a ballot. All voting options and public education and outreach must be made available for voters who historically have been disenfranchised by language, physical ability, age, race, income level, digital and information divide, geography, and housing insecurity.”
“NARAL Pro-Choice California applauds Senator Umberg, Assemblymember Berman, Governor Newsom, and Secretary Padilla for their leadership on this historic legislation to guarantee the right to vote amid a global pandemic. For millions of voters in California, and across the country, this will be the most important election of their lifetime—so it’s no surprise that our current presidential administration is determined to suppress as many votes as possible. As one of the most racially diverse states in the U.S., we’re proud that California can set a national standard for ensuring that the voices—and votes—of BIPOC and other historically disenfranchised communities are heard and counted in the 2020 election. Especially at this critical juncture, this new law will ensure that all Californians, and especially those who continue to face disproportionate barriers to voting, are able to make their voices heard,” said Shannon Hovis, Director of NARAL Pro-Choice California.
“Being able to participate in fair and just elections is not only a cornerstone to a healthy democracy, it is an essential part to exercising full autonomy of your body,” said Janette Robinson Flint, Executive Director of Black Women for Wellness. “Black women have long understood the connection between civic participation as one tool in the battle to create a world where we can live and thrive. We are thankful that California legislatures are proactively working to ensure that every voter gets an opportunity to voice their opinion in this fight.”
“We need everyone who can to vote by mail during this pandemic, but ensuring a safe and secure election requires more than scaling up vote-by-mail. This legislation provides counties with guidelines and resources they need to provide adequate early and Election Day voting opportunities for everyone who, for whatever reason, needs to vote in-person,” said Michael Latner, Professor of political science at California Polytechnic State University and Senior Fellow at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“The passage of SB 423 marks an important milestone in the march towards the November Election, particularly for those who have been traditionally underrepresented and marginalized and are most deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. While we appreciated the move to send all registered voters a ballot this November through the passage of AB 860, we also know that voting by mail is not enough for many voters. Voters should not have to risk their health to cast a ballot and we should make sure voters have as much access to vote as possible. California Calls applauds the Legislature for passing and the Governor for signing SB 423 into law. Voters have full access to participate in our democracy. We also call on election officials across the State to implement these voting reforms to ensure all voters have safe and simple access to cast their ballots this November,” said Anthony Thigpenn, President of California Calls.
“The signing of SB 423 and AB 860 were critical to ensuring that every Californian who is eligible to vote and wants to vote this year, even with the challenges posed by a global pandemic, has the ability to do so safely and in a way that prioritizes those who are most often disenfranchised. Thanks to the partnership and leadership from Senator Umberg, Assemblymember Berman, Governor Newsom, and Secretary Padilla, California is setting the example for the rest of the nation that the actual safest way to conduct the election is by expanding opportunities to vote. The passage of SB 423 and AB 860 were key steps, but we must also ensure that the planning and implementation of the November election at the county level delivers on accessibility and inclusivity. With the signing of SB 423, California is once again at the forefront of expanding access to democracy,” said Mary Creasman, Chief Executive Officer of the California League of Conservation Voters.
“SEIU members are proud of the work we have done in partnership with Senator Tom Umberg, Assemblymember Marc Berman, and Governor Newsom to ensure that in California every voter’s voice will be heard this November. Across the country, the right to vote is under attack,” said April Verrett, President of SEIU Local 2015. “Thanks to the measures put in place by SB 423, California will show the rest of the nation voting can be safe, fair, and inclusive. We are facing an election of historic and defining importance and it is our duty to exercise our right to vote. We owe it to our democracy and we owe it to Congressman John Lewis.
Amending only the November 2020 General Election, the passage of SB 423 requires a minimum of 1 in-person vote location for every 10,000 voters, 1 dropbox for every 15,000 voters, voting to begin as early as October 31st, every county to publish and take feedback on preliminary election plans for at least 10 days, every voting site must have at least three accessible voting machines, and requires additional support and coordination between the Governor’s Office, Secretary of State, and County Election Officials. Since April, the coalition has been working with the Governor, Secretary of State, Assemblymember Berman, Senator Umberg and the California Legislature, to provide feedback and suggestions on protecting access to voting and people’s right to vote safely.
The coalition that is fighting to ensure the November election is safe, fair, and inclusive of all voters consists of the following advocacy and grassroots groups: Black Women for Wellness, Brennan Center for Justice, California Calls, California Donor Table, California Environmental Justice Alliance, California League of Conservation Voters, Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), Courage California, Inland Empire United, NARAL Pro-Choice California, Power California, SEIU California, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.