California Voters of Color, Language Minority Communities, and Persons with Disabilities Still Face Obstacles to Voting

National Commission on Voting Rights Hears from Voters at Public Hearing in San Francisco

Media Contact: Candice Francis / Communications Director, LCCR / 415.543.9697 x216 / cfrancis@lccr.com

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 4, 2014 – On January 30, at a National Commission on Voting Rights (NCVR) public hearing, organized by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR), over 100 voters, activists, and voting rights advocates gathered at UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco to share their experiences of the voting challenges they continue to face in California.

“We see unequal access to voter education materials and voter registration forms for voters with various disabilities, such as vision impairments, limited mobility dexterity and certain learning disabilities,” said Fred Nisen, an attorney with Disability Rights California who has cerebral palsy and operates a motorized wheelchair. “Many (CA) poll workers do not set up accessible voting machines.

And in one instance, an accessible place had a voting booth that was locked and the poll workers didn’t even know how to unlock the machine.” Nisen’s testimony on barriers for voters with disabilities was among a diverse range of voting administration issues addressed by expert witness panels and general public witnesses representing disability rights advocates, African American, Asian and Latino justice organizations, and organizers advancing the rights of currently and formerly incarcerated Californians, many of whom are also members of underrepresented African American and Latino communities in California.

National Commissioner Dolores Huerta, president, Dolores Huerta Foundation, and California NCVR Guest Commissioners Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause; Alice A. Huffman, president, California-Hawaii State Conference of the NAACP; and Cruz R. Reynoso, (ret.) Justice of the California Supreme Court and professor at U.C. Davis School of Law heard about the challenges, successes and opportunities for reform in all aspects of voting in California. Other topics included vote dilution, voting discrimination and litigation under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act in Latino and Asian American communities, voter registration gaps among naturalized citizens, redistricting, racially polarized voting, the underrepresentation of growing communities of color in local election systems, and the impact of the California Voting Rights Act on minority voting strength.

The San Francisco event was the fourth in a series of nationwide hearings scheduled through the spring to collect testimony about voting discrimination and election administration challenges and successes.

Over the past few years, too many states have enacted restrictive voting laws, while many others continue to grapple with recurring election administration challenges and some have proposed reform to expand access. Additionally, this past June, the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder stripped away a key Voting Rights Act protection against voting discrimination. The goal of the NCVR is
to document both what continues to keep voters from the ballot box as well as efforts to increase access, in two reports, which will be released in 2014.

NCVR hearings will address a range of topics, including: voting changes, voter registration, voter ID, election administration (e.g., provisional ballots, polling location issues, and method of elections), voting discrimination, student voting issues, and access to the ballot for individuals with disabilities, language
minority voters, and communities of color. Upcoming hearings include:

  • Columbia, South Carolina- February 6
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania- February 6
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota- February 25

Quotes from National Commissioner Dolores Huerta and California Guest Commissioners:

  • Dolores Huerta, President, Dolores Huerta Foundation and Co-Founder of United Farm-Workers of America (UFW): “Exercising one’s right to vote is one of the most basic and important forms of activism. The stories of the challenges to voting that we’ve heard today mean that we have to engage more, to organize more in our communities and never forget the power we have collectively to make changes.”
  • Kathay Feng, Executive Director, California Common Cause: “It is eye opening that even in 2014, we hear ongoing examples of how voting rights are denied because of race, disability and history with the law. No matter what reforms California is able to achieve, we desperately need strong and consistent protocols to ensure that everyone’s right to vote is protected. “
  • Alice A. Huffman, President, California-Hawaii State Conference of the NAACP: “This hearing is timely and it is essential that we hear about the real problems with voting in California. We applaud the Lawyers Committee for including California in these proceedings. I think this work is essential to protecting our democracy, because we have no democracy if even one person is not given their full right to participate and exercise their vote.”
  • Cruz R. Reynoso, (ret.) Justice of the California Supreme Court and Professor, U.C. Davis School of Law: “Equal voting is the essence of a democracy. Nonetheless, even though in CA we have good laws, we have heard of the inapplicability of those laws so often that fair elections continue to be a challenged process in CA. As is often said, vigilance and an active citizenry have to be one of the important solutions.”

Presenting Sponsor: Silicon Valley Community Foundation

Sponsors: The James Irvine Foundation, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, Morrison & Foerster LLP, O’Melveny & Myers LLP, Bay Area Communication Access (BACA), Dolores Street Community Services, UC Hastings College of the Law, Center for State and Local Government Law, TransPerfect.

Supporting organizations (not exhaustive): Altshuler Berzon; American Civil Liberties Union of California, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles; Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP; California Common Cause; California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF); California-Hawaii State Conference NAACP; Disability Rights California; Dolores Huerta Foundation; Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho; Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF); Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR); National Action Network; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; National Action Network; National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund; The Greenlining Institute.