A bill that would strengthen the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) is on its way to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown for consideration. The bill, SB 1365 by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), won final legislative approval Aug. 13 in the State Senate and would explicitly prohibit school boards, cities, and counties from gerrymandering district boundaries in a manner that would weaken the ability of a racial or language minority to influence the outcome of an election.
“With today’s vote, we are one step closer to strengthening voting rights in California,” said Sen. Padilla, after passage by the Senate. “As our state becomes increasingly diverse, we must ensure that the rights of all voters are protected.”
In 2002, Gov. Gray Davis signed the CVRA, which expanded upon the federal Voting Rights Act by requiring that at-large elections not have the effect of diluting or denying the political representation of minority groups. The CVRA has been used to successfully protect voting rights throughout the state. When at-large elections are found to violate the CVRA, the most common remedy is to transition to district elections. In fact, 147 local government bodies have been challenged and have transitioned from at-large elections to district elections in California.
However, moving to district elections does not, in and of itself, guarantee that the new districts will be drawn in a way that protects the rights of minority voters. SB 1365 addresses this by extending the CVRA’s protections to district elections and empowering the courts to determine appropriate remedies to address voting rights violations.
On June 25, 2013, the United States Supreme Court ruling in the case of Shelby County v. Holder weakened important protections of the landmark federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. In the wake of the Shelby decision, a broad coalition of civil rights organizations came together to strengthen voting rights in California.
Sen. Padilla worked with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, NAACP, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ), Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area and others to introduce SB 1365.
“The Shelby decision drastically weakened the federal Voting Rights Act. Over the past two years, 180 bills to restrict voting rights were introduced in 41 states,” Padilla said. “In California, we will work to strengthen voting rights for all voters.
“This legislation promotes fair elections systems ensuring that all eligible voters enjoy an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice,” said Robert Rubin, who helped draft the original California Voting Rights Act of 2002.
Sen. Alex Padilla, 41, graduated from MIT with a degree in mechanical engineering and just completed serving on the MIT Corporation Board. He is president of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. He is chair of the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee and represents the more than 1,100,000 residents of the 20th State Senate District in Los Angeles. For more information about Sen. Padilla, visit his website or follow him on Facebook.