By the Indivisible East Bay Voter Rights and Election Integrity team
Updated May 26, 2018
Our democracy is fundamental to who we are as a nation, and our right to vote is the foundation of our democracy. Two bills pending in the California legislature offer different paths to reach a common goal: facilitating and increasing voter participation in communities with low voter turnout — workers, students, and the incarcerated.
Election Day Holiday – AB 2165
AB 2165 – Election Day Holiday, was introduced by two Bay Area assembly members, Rob Bonta (Oakland) and Evan Low (San Jose). In April the Indivisible East Bay Governance Committee voted to submit a letter supporting AB 2165 to the California Assembly Committee on Governmental Organization. The bill passed that committee and is now in the Appropriations Committee.
California state law lets workers take two hours off without losing pay to cast a ballot, so why make Election Day a holiday? The bill expands the current law, making it easier for students and school and state employees to vote, for schools to serve as easily accessible polling places, and for students to serve as poll workers.
This is far from being a solution in search of a problem: in 2014 California voters turned out in historically low numbers — only 42% of those registered participated in the general election and a dismal 25% participated in the primary. Nationally, turnout for the 2014 election was below 37%. According to the Pew Research Center, work and school conflicts were the most common reason that eligible voters did not vote in 2014: 35% of respondents said scheduling conflicts with work or school kept them from getting to the polls. Overall voter turnout in the US rarely breaks 60%; we rank 120th out of 169 countries for average turnout. Countries that outperform the US have different methods to elect officials, but many have one thing in common: they have Election Day off.
All Californians should have unfettered access to the polls and should be able to cast their vote in a neighborhood precinct on Election Day. We must do everything possible to make it easier for people in all communities to vote, including removing barriers that prevent those who want to vote from doing so. Assembly member Low hopes that making Election Day a legal holiday will help low-income communities participate in elections.
An Election Day holiday would expand access to voter participation and draw attention to often-overlooked midterm elections. It would commit the state to civic engagement and education by making clear that not only is voting a right and a responsibility, it’s one we take seriously enough to set aside our work obligations so we can all carry it out. It should not be “at the discretion of an employer” whether someone has time to vote, nor should anyone be concerned about their standing at their job, or of lost income because they vote.
We can help make Election Day a holiday and a celebration of our voting rights in California. AB 2165 is now awaiting fiscal analysis in the Appropriations Committee, which must act on the bill by May 24 in order for it to pass. California Senate and Assembly committees represent all Californians, and the Appropriations committee needs to hear from us in order for the bill to pass.
We can help make Election Day a holiday and a celebration of our voting rights in California. Though AB 2165 has successfully passed every Assembly committee hearing thus far, it is now being held in committee under submission.
We need to really turn up the heat so please call your Assemblymember right away! What to say:
My name is ______, and my zip code is _____. I’m a constituent, and a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling to ask Assemblymember ______ to throw [his/her] support behind AB 2165, which is being held under submission. Neighborhood polling places are crucial to maintaining access for the elderly, single parents, for those without transportation or time to vote. An Election Day holiday will help all around by increasing polling locations, numbers of poll workers, overall excitement and participation in voting. Election Day should be a public celebration! AB 2165 will make explicit that the State of California upholds the foundation of our democracy. I urge your support and ask for your help in moving this bill forward.
Also, please spread the word to anyone you know in districts AD 18 (Bonta, Oakland), AD 20 (Quirk, Hayward), who are on the Appropriations Committee where AB 2165 is being held, and anyone in the San Diego area which is Appropriations Committee Chair Fletcher’s district.
Jails: Voter Education Program – AB 3115
AB 3115 – Jails: Voter Education Program addresses a need many don’t even know exists. While working people and students grapple with finding time to get to the polls, at least they’re usually aware they are eligible to vote. Many Californians with criminal convictions don’t know that they have that right, or don’t know how to exercise it. In fact, only felons serving their sentences and those on parole are barred from voting, but detainees, including those charged with misdemeanors and those awaiting trial, often think they can’t vote. Some jail officials also believe, incorrectly, that detainees can’t vote. And logistics often make it difficult or impossible for prisoners to register and/or vote. Many formerly incarcerated people are also unclear about their rights.
No eligible voter should be kept from exercising their right to vote for lack of understanding or access. California enacted AB 2466 in 2016 to clarify who can and cannot vote, but confusion persists, particularly when it comes to prisoners. AB 3115 would require county jails to allow at least one outside organization to provide voter education to prisoners to help them understand and exercise their rights. If passed, the bill would help remove the obstacles volunteers encounter coordinating with authorities and gaining access to prisoners.
Studies show that access to voting is strongly linked to lower recidivism. Access to voting has also been shown to re-ignite a sense of participation and citizenship that many people with criminal convictions feel they’ve lost. When people feel more connected to their community, they’re more likely to become contributing, productive citizens when they re-enter their communities. This means that improving prisoner education and access to voting will improve public safety. Because we in Indivisible East Bay know that by educating disenfranchised communities we can increase voting access to tens of thousands inside California jails who have historically been denied their right to register or cast a ballot, the IEB Governance Committee submitted a letter in support of this bill to the Assembly Public Safety Committee on April 9.
Updated May 26, 2018:
Voter education is just as important as voter registration! AB 3115 awaits a critical vote on the floor of the Assembly. Please call your Assemblymember before the end of May. What to say:
My name is ______, and my zip code is _____. I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay and a constituent of Assemblymember ______, I’m calling in support of AB 3115, which requires county jails to allow an outside group to provide voter education and help those eligible with registration. Voting is our fundamental right as Americans. If a person is eligible to vote, whether confined to jail or not, this right must be honored, not suppressed. I urge ______ to help by supporting AB 3115.
Are you interested in working with the IEB Voter Rights and Election Integrity team? Send us an email or join the voting-issues channel on IEB’s Slack.