Federal officials are coming to Sacramento on Election Day to monitor the state’s efforts to assist voters who are not proficient in English.
The Department of Justice announced Monday it will visit voting centers in Sacramento and San Mateo counties. The officials will examine whether the areas are complying with language access provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act.
Jonathan Stein, staff attorney and program manager for the Voting Rights Program at Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus, said the DOJ’s activities are fairly routine but appear to be targeting the most populated areas that have recently replaced polling places with voting centers.
Sacramento and San Mateo are among the five counties participating in California’s pilot program approved by state legislators in 2016 under the Voters Choice Act.
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The voting centers in Sacramento and San Mateo counties primarily serve as a spot for residents to drop off their ballots, but they also offer conditional voter registration and language assistance.
“California has an obligation to get language access right if it wants to build an inclusive democracy,” Stein said. “California counties have done reasonably well on Section 203 (of the Voting Rights Act) compliance in the past, but that doesn’t mean oversight isn’t needed.”
Congress amended the Voting Rights Act in 1975, with Section 203 being added to make voting more accessible to voters who don’t speak English.
The DOJ broadly described its process for selecting counties but declined to comment specifically on why Sacramento and San Mateo counties were chosen. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla confirmed in a statement that DOJ officials reached out to election officials “about monitoring compliance with language access provisions of the Federal Voting Rights Act.”
According to Stein, the DOJ has previously gone after six California counties over possible Voter Rights Act language compliance violations, including Napa.
“The federal Department of Justice has been aggressive in the past in enforcing Section 203’s language action protections for limited-speaking voters in California,” Stein said. “That has included putting DOJ officials on the ground in counties in past elections.”
Padilla expressed his commitment to making voting as accessible as possible.
“We are committed to ensuring every eligible voter can exercise their right to cast a ballot,” he said. “In California we have a Voter Bill of Rights, so that every eligible voter can cast a ballot easily, confidentially, and free from intimidation.”