14 new languages coming to California's polling places next fall
Elections across a large swath of California a year from now must be conducted in 14 additional languages in order to stop disenfranchising at least 800,000 Asian-American voters, a state appeals court has ruled.
Acting on a lawsuit brought by several civil rights groups, a three-judge panel in San Francisco unanimously ordered the changes Monday after deciding the state's top election official, Democratic Secretary of State Alex Padilla, was setting an improperly high threshold for deciding when to offer voting assistance in some languages other than English.
The ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeals could have a measurable impact on 2020 turnout in the nation's largest and most linguistically diverse state. While its 55 electoral votes will be a virtual lock for the Democratic nominee, at least half a dozen congressional races and dozens of state and local contests look to be competitive.
California law requires that, in any place where at least 3 percent of the voting age population is from a language minority and lacks skills to vote without linguistic help, the state must provide translated facsimile ballots and other materials to help voters in using election equipment that has instructions and the names of contested offices in English. That standard is higher than the federal thresholds, which Padilla applied for the 2018 congressional midterms.
About 1,300 precincts will be affected because at least 57,000 of their voters speak one of the covered languages at home. Translated voting materials will now be prepared for the first time in Bengali, Burmese, Gujarati, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Lao, Mien, Mongolian, Nepali, Tamil, Thai, Telugu, and Urdu. In addition, the ruling expands access to materials in Hmong and Punjabi.
The court declined, however, to do what the lawsuit asked for and expand voting in many other languages. The judges said they were limited to considering Asian languages under the law's definition of "language minority." California currently offers aid in at least part of the state in 16 languages.
Padilla's office said it had not yet decided whether to appeal.
The decision "will make it possible for many thousands of Californians to participate fully and equally in our democratic process," said William Freeman, a senior counsel with the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, one of the plaintiffs. "California must continue to be in the forefront of encouraging robust voter participation by our state's diverse communities."
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More voters see "corruption in our political system" as the country's most pressing problem than any of the other issues getting greater attention in the 2020 campaign, new polling shows.
The online survey conducted in September asked voters whether seven different issues were an "extremely serious problem" for the country, and the only one where a majority said yes was political corruption; rising health care costs came in second at 49 percent.
The poll is only the latest to declare the electorate's dire concern about the broken political system. In just the last month, two-thirds of voters told one poll they believe the country is on the "edge of a civil war" and a plurality in another poll identified the government itself as the country's biggest problem.
But the topic of democracy reform is getting hardly any mention in the presidential race. Though most of the Democratic candidates have plans for limiting money in politics, making voting easier, securing elections and restoring the balance of powers, few have emphasized these ideas on the trail. And President Trump, who four years ago ran as the candidate most interested in "draining the swamp," rarely mentions this aspiration anymore.
A Democratic advocacy group has filed a third lawsuit in less than a month challenging Michigan laws and policies it says restrict voting rights.
The focus on Michigan voting laws by the super PAC Priorities USA reflects the importance of the state's 16 electoral votes in the 2020 presidential election. President Trump won Michigan, a swing state, by less than half a percentage point in 2016.
The latest lawsuit, filed Friday in state court, challenges actions taken after a successful 2018 ballot initiative expanded voting options, such as allowing people to register to vote at any time (including on Election Day). It also automatically registered people to vote when they obtained or renewed their driver's licenses.