Saturday Voting and Non-Citizen Poll Workers in California

Saturday Voting and Non-Citizen Poll Workers in California


Elections in California might change for the better. The State Senate has taken two steps towards increasing voter turnout and community accessibility with the approval of both SB 637 and AB 817.

SB 637 will allow Californians to vote on Saturdays before Election Day. County election officials will open early voting locations no earlier than 29 days to Election Day. SB 637 aims to make voting more accessible, while helping to shrink the lines during Election Day. While Californian voters have the legal option to take time off to vote on weekdays, there are still a large percentage of people who just can’t make it to the polls. The author of SB 637, Sen. Yee said, “For working people, getting time off to vote can be a choice behind exercising their right to vote and feeding their families.”

AB 817 was also recently passed through the Senate. This will allow up to five non-citizens to work at polling sites to assist voters casting ballots. Today, only registered voters can become poll workers but AB 817 will change that to also permit permanent U.S. residents who legally entered the country. Opponents of AB 817 argue against giving “foreigners” the right to be poll workers. Oakland’s Rob Bonta introduced AB 817 with the intention of furthering inclusion of lawful permanent residents to our political process and engaging them towards citizenship. Over 2.6 million California voters are not proficient in English, and run the risk of making uninformed voting decisions on Election Day. Individuals in need of language assistance have had their political clout undermined historically. Even if a citizen has limited English skills, they have the fundamental right to make informed voting decisions.

Many citizens requiring language assistance often are not accommodated with a respective interpreter of their language. Although SCOTUS has recently gutted key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, section 203 affirms that the state must provide “the language of the applicable minority group as well as in the English language.” AB 817 will bring light to that provision by assuring the much-needed resource of language assistance to minority voters.

The passage of SB 637 and AB 817 is promising for the state of California but it also speaks to me deeply on a personal level. There are several barriers that are intrinsic to my family’s experience that have not made the right to vote an easy feat. My mother and I moved to California when I was four from the Philippines. We finally became U.S. citizens when I was in high school, which is right around the time I was beginning to grow increasingly aware of politics and societal issues. Even though my mother finally had the opportunity to vote, it was not uncommon for her to be tired and busy since she worked over eighty hours a week.

I cannot stress enough how different it would have been for my family and many others if Saturday voting were enacted earlier. Work was the main reason my mother found it hard to vote. Citizenship made voting a legal reality for her, but her schedule also made it hard for her to become politically engaged. Before I was of age to vote in any election, I needed my mother to vote in 2008 because I was soon to become a college student and there were many reasons why she needed to contribute to the democratic process so we did not go unheard.

Voting barriers still existed even after I convinced my mother to vote. While my mother can both write and speak English, her skills are limited and there are many occasions where she has needed to request translation or clarification on a term or phrase. People are often surprised that I can still write and speak Tagalog because it is not uncommon for the children of immigrants to lose touch with their roots as they become more assimilated with American culture. A majority of the people who still speak Tagalog or similar languages are non-citizens. If non-citizens have something beneficial to offer to the political process, it should not be denied from them.

I believe that a citizen’s choice to abstain from political participation should never diminish the significance of their opinion and inclusion to the political process, especially if the reasons are due to barriers that disadvantage them. While this may be a personal testament, I have confidence that Saturday voting and non-citizen poll workers will help many minority families like mine that have had their voices silenced through a lack of access.

Katherine Delos Reyes is a senior Political Science and Law & Society Major at UC Riverside. She is interning at the Los Angeles Office of California Common Cause for the Summer of 2013.