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At a time when eighteen states have enacted 30 laws that will make it harder for Americans to vote, California’s voter bill of rights expands voting access in order to increase voter participation.
As the ballots for the recall of Governor Newsom arrive at mailboxes across the state, California Attorney General Rob Bonta and Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber reminded all Californians to get out and vote at a virtual news briefing on Aug. 16.
“We want to make sure every Californian votes because this is an important decision like every decision we make in an election,” said Weber. She remarked on the irony of being the daughter of sharecroppers who were denied voting rights and holding the position today of ensuring free, fair, and accessible elections across California.
Bonta urged all Californians to review the voting protections that the state has in place, “to know your rights and make a plan today for casting your ballot.”
California’s voter bill of rights, an adaptation of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001, was modified in the last six years to use simpler language in order to ensure that voters found it easy to read and understand.
These rights are on the Secretary of State’s website and can also be found in the Voter Information Guide sent to every voting household as well as posted at polling sites on election day, in this case, September 14, 2021.
There are ten rights granted to each voter or potential voter in California.
The right to vote if you are a registered voter. If you are a U.S. citizen, above the age of 18, residing in California, and registered to vote, then you have the right to cast your ballot. The exceptions are those who are convicted of a felony and currently in state or federal prison or found mentally incompetent to vote by a court.
The right to vote if you are a registered voter even if your name is not on the list. The list here refers to a registered voter list, and even if your name is not on the list, you will be allowed to vote using a provisional ballot and your vote will be counted if it is established that you are eligible to vote.
The right to vote if you are still in line when the polls close. If you arrived to join a line before polls close, then by rights you are entitled to cast your ballot. Just do not get out of line.
The right to cast a secret ballot. Who you vote for is your business. And you have the right to maintain the privacy of your ballot without any harassment or intimidation from anyone trying to influence your vote. Even if it’s a poll worker, don’t let anyone interfere with how you vote or persuade you that they need to observe you while voting.
The right to get a new ballot if you have made a mistake. If a mistake was made, and you have not already cast your ballot, ask the election official at your polling place for a new ballot, exchange your mail-in ballot for a new one at an elections office or polling place, or use a provisional ballot.
The right to get help casting your ballot. Yes, you have the right to ask for help, except from your employer or union representative, but you are not compelled to take any advice meted out.
The right to drop off your completed vote-by-mail ballot at any polling place. This can be at any polling site across the state.
The right to get election materials in a language other than English. There are state language access requirements for each county. If enough people in your precinct speak the language, then you have the right to ask for a ballot in that language. These language access options vary from county to county. Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Korean, Punjabi, Hmong, Syriac, Armenian, Persian, and Arabic are some of the languages covered in designated counties.
The right to ask questions to elections officials about election procedures. If you are unsure about how to proceed in order to cast your ballot, seek the help of an election officer present at your polling place. If that person cannot answer your question then they must find you the right person to answer your question. Be considerate of other voters when you seek help.
The right to report any illegal or fraudulent election activity. If you witness behavior that prevents you or anyone else from casting a ballot, report it to an elections official or the Secretary of State’s office.
California’s voting protections are more expansive than many other states. Nevada, Oregon, New York, Florida, for example, do not include the vote by mail ballot or the language access options in their bill of rights. New Mexico, in addition, does not include a replacement ballot if a mistake was made.
Bonta and Weber reiterated that their offices are committed to ensuring that the gubernatorial recall election is safe, with COVID-19 protections in place, and accessible to all voters.
“To ensure that the outcome of the upcoming recall election reflects the will of the people, Californians have my commitment and that of the Attorney General to protect the right of every eligible voter — regardless of party — to cast their ballot,” said Weber.
“The first line of defense is you,” Bonta said, and a big part of that is knowing your rights when it comes to voting.
Jaya Padmanabhan was the editor of India Currents from 2012-16. She is the author of the collection of short stories, Transactions of Belonging.