Opinion Power to Speak: When Voting Rights Go Right
Register to vote by May 23 — the state is spending an extra $16 million to make sure you can
By Alex Padilla
The author is California’s Secretary of State.
If there’s one thing that every American should agree with, it’s this: Voting is the fundamental right in our democracy, the one that makes all others possible.
The right to choose our representatives is why patriots dumped tea into Boston Harbor, why women marched for the 19th Amendment, and why 51 years ago people of all races joined together to win the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
But one of the most insidious ideas in the 2016 election is that voting rights are negotiable. More than 20 states have enacted voting restrictions that could prevent many Americans from exercising their fundamental right to vote this November.
We saw the logical outcome of these laws last month in Arizona, when local election officials closed 70% of polling locations in Maricopa County. We will never know how many people didn’t vote that day, frustrated by five-hour lines and overwhelmed poll workers.
The reason given in Arizona was “cost-cutting,” but it wouldn’t have happened if the Supreme Court hadn’t done some cutting if its own — in a 2013 decision that shredded the protections in the Voting Rights Act.
Before that decision, a place like Maricopa County with a history of disenfranchising people of color would have had to petition the U.S. Department of Justice before closing polling locations
If Arizona is a story of when voting rights go wrong, California wants to be an example of when voting rights go right.
Our voter registration has surged leading up to the June 7 primary, driven by hotly contested presidential races for both Democrats and Republicans. As the state’s top elections official, I asked the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown for emergency funding to ensure local elections officials could hire and staff polling locations and process additional ballots.
Unusual in this fractured political climate, Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature voted unanimously to approve the funding, and Gov. Brown signed AB 120. The law provides an additional $16 million to all 58 California counties to help cover costs for the June 7 presidential primary as well as the verification of ballot initiative signatures for the November general election. This money will also allow my office to hire more phone interpreters for the voter hotline and conduct polling place observations in all 58 California counties.
California Democrats and Republicans are working together to expand access to voting. There’s no excuse for the partisan divide in our country around voting rights. But the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the Voting Rights Act has given free rein to those who want to try to cling to power by suppressing voter turnout.
History shows that voter suppression is doomed to fail. We want people of all kinds to vote, regardless of political persuasion. That’s the path to true democracy, and California is leading the way.
Make sure your registration is up-to-date by visiting RegisterToVote.ca.gov before the registration deadline on Monday, May 23.
A version of this article first appeared on the medium.com account of the California Democratic Party.