Voting is one of the most important rights and duties of citizens in a democracy. No voter should be discouraged from voting because, due to limited English proficiency, they cannot understand or navigate the voting process.
For this reason, existing law requires elections officials to recruit bilingual poll workers for precincts where a substantial percentage of the adult population is non-English speaking. This is an important policy for promoting voting accessibility for California’s 2.6 million voting-age citizens who have limited English proficiency; however, in practice many elections officials struggle to meet this goal.
For example, only a few weeks out from the June 2014 primary, Los Angeles County was still struggling to recruit 600 bilingual people – including Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Farsi, and Russian speakers. One recent report found that language assistance at polling places remains a significant issue.
This legislative session, however, Governor Brown signed a bill which may significantly increase the number of bilingual poll workers, and introduce more young adults to the electoral process and the importance of voting.
High school students are already an important part of many counties’ election day operations. For example, San Francisco relies heavily on poll workers, who can constitute up to 40% of its elections day staff.
Under current law, 16-18 year-old U.S. citizens can serve as poll workers. However, 16-18 year-old legal permanent residents cannot, even though legal permanent residents over the age of 18 can. AB 554, by Assemblyman Mullin, would close that inexplicable gap by allowing legal permanent resident high school students --many of whom will become naturalized citizens – to serve as poll workers.
In many low-English proficiency communities, young adults are a linguistic bridge that help older members of their community navigate government bureaucracy. AB 554 acknowledges the role bilingual high school students play in overcoming language barriers and recognizes that they have an important part to play in addressing the gap in voter access and participation.
Office: Common Cause National