The California Senate approved Monday a bill allowing non-U.S. citizens to work at polling places in the state to aid voters not fluent in English.
The bill would allow California elections officials to appoint up to five non-citizen residents per precinct to assist voters when casting their ballots. The bill, which passed the General Assembly in May, passed by a 22-10 party-line vote, will now go back to the Assembly to approve minor changes made by the Senate. If approved, it would allow election officials to recruit more bilingual residents to work at polls, while still requiring that they can assist English speakers.
Oakland Democrat Rob Bonta, who introduced the measure in the Assembly, said the state has about 2.6 million eligible voters who are not fully proficient in English. “As our country moves closer towards comprehensive immigration reform, it is important for states to create opportunities for lawful permanent residents to participate in our democratic process and encourage them to continue on the pathway towards citizenship,” Bonta said. He noted that Washington and Idaho do not currently require their poll workers to be citizens.
While California does not yet allow non-citizen voting in local elections, the bill is a step toward mitigating issues that arise with non-English citizens casting their ballots, including a lack of available interpreters. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires areas with significant non-English-speaking populations to print non-English ballots.
When the Assembly debated the bill in May, Republican Tim Donnelly spoke in opposition. “In order to vote, you must be a citizen. In order to work the polling place right now, you must be a citizen. I think we have to respect and uphold that standard and we must do that to maintain confidence of all of the people who are citizens in the process,” he said. Republicans across the country have introduced legislation to require the government to conduct official activities in English, keep government from mailing materials not printed in English, and get rid of non-English ballots.
Joseph Diebold is an intern with ThinkProgress.