Press Release

Rally at Capitol to Fix Racist Voter Registration Laws

SB-299 would automatically bring 4.7 million eligible but unregistered voters, who are disproportionately Asian American, Black, and Latinx citizens, one step closer to the ballot box.

Dolores Huerta, State Senator Monique Limón and Women of Color Rally at State Capitol to Demand Lawmakers to Fix State’s Racist Voter Registration Laws 

One-hundred advocates from across the state met with legislators  to share how voter registration laws makes voting harder for their communities, calling on the legislature to pass SB-299, to automate voter registration 

SACRAMENTO, CA — Yesterday, Dolores Huerta, California State Senator Monique Limón, Assemblymember Chris Holden, and 100 voting rights advocates from across the state who make up the California Grassroots Democracy Coalition, rallied in front of the Capitol building to galvanize the State Legislature around California’s New Motor Voter Program bill (SB-299). If passed into law, SB-299 would automatically bring 4.7 million eligible but unregistered voters, who are disproportionately Asian American, Black, and Latinx citizens, one step closer to the ballot box. The Coalition hopes to move Elections Committee Chair Assemblymember Gail Pellerin to expand California’s democracy to all eligible voters and move California toward truly automatic voter registration with SB-299. 

“Simply put: voter registration laws are racist,” said Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farmworkers and president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation who has been advocating for the expansion of voting rights for underrepresented communities since the 1950’s. “They are relics of the racist Jim Crow Era, a time when literacy tests, poll taxes and other hurdles were put in place to prevent Black, Indigenous and other people of color from voting.”

California’s exclusionary voting practices have evolved and persisted for more than two centuries. Beyond California’s 92-year-long delay in assuring equal rights for Black, Chinese, Mexican and Native American people through the prolonged ratification of the 15th Amendment, California discouraged voting by withholding citizenship from Chinese immigrants, requiring literacy tests for all voters at the ballot box, and introducing a variety of poll taxes that disproportionately affected workers, immigrants and infrequent voters. The requirement to register oneself with a county clerk was introduced in 1866, and had the same desired effect to make voting exclusive

Senator Monique Limón, (D-Santa Barbara) who authored the bill said, “It is unacceptable that working-class communities of color continue to be systematically left out of access to political power. We must take the necessary steps to ensure that California’s diverse population becomes a diverse electorate that truly represents the power of our state.”

SB-299 would update California’s voter registration to Secure Automatic Voter Registration (SAVR),  which automatically registers eligible people when they interact with a state agency like the DMV or Medicaid. This bill follows a national trend of updating and fully automating Motor Voter laws which have recently passed in Alaska, Delaware, DC, Colorado, New Mexico, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. 

In addition to Limón and Huerta, three women of color leaders spoke at the rally and press conference about  the kinds of obstacles voter registration poses to their communities. 

“I was my family’s sole interpreter and civic navigator from a very young age, and voter registration was not at the top of the urgent paperwork I was translating for them,” said Sydney Fang, Policy Director at AAPI FORCE who is the child of immigrants and refugees who speak Cantonese. “Once they were able to opt-in for in-language voting, registration became easier for my family. SB-299 would remove this laborious extra step that’s keeping so many non-English speakers from participating in our democracy.” 

Kristin Nimmers, Policy and Campaign Manager with the California Black Power Network described how system impacted people (1 out of every 13 Black adults) experience frequent changes to their voter eligibility, making it difficult to keep up with registration. “California re-enfranchised over 50 thousand people in the last four years thanks to Prop 17,” said Nimmers. “But in the absence of a back-end system, many of those people, and others on parole, probation, serving a misdemeanor sentence or awaiting trial, are still learning about this critical new right, and are therefore much less likely to be registered.”

“A lack of in-language information for immigrants in various stages of their citizenship process makes registering to vote, not only difficult  but also dangerous,” said Itzel Maganda Chavez, Civic Engagement Director for Alliance San Diego, who described a community member who mistakenly registered before they were eligible, jeopardizing his eligibility to naturalize, and could have resulted in deportation. “By putting the burden of registration on all Californians, the state endangers non-citizens who aren’t aware of the consequences or historical knowledge of the US voting process. Forcing people to opt in, puts vulnerable communities at serious risk while at the same time excludes eligible voters from exercising their fundamental right to vote.”

About California Grassroots Democracy Coalition

The California Grassroots Democracy Coalition comprises 140+ grassroots organizations and is dedicated to helping California’s most vulnerable communities become empowered through pro-democracy reforms. The organizations include a wide range of backgrounds including, but not limited to: criminal justice reform, immigrant rights, language access, low-income communities, environmental justice, religious, labor unions, etc.

Media Contacts: Alexis Meisels & Ahuatl Amaro, Change Consulting