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Monthly Highlights for May 2024

We’ve been hard at work this past month! Keep reading to find updates on our latest legislative initiatives and advocacy efforts, like a pilot program to help people in jail vote, establishing civilian review boards for sheriffs, and supporting bills to make redistricting more fair and elections more accessible for people who don’t speak English. We’re also getting ready for the 2024 Presidential Election by making resources for voters and being a part of the One Person One Vote campaign.

Update on Advocacy (section header)

A Personal Perspective on “The VOICE Act”: Voting in County Jails

As we navigate the busy legislative session, with impending deadlines, crucial amendments to review, and jam-packed hearing schedules, time seems to fly by. But, it is important to pause and reflect on why, at the LWVC, personal is political. We advocate for and sponsor bills that impact our key issue areas and make a better California for all, and sometimes – legislation hits close to home.

Last month, Chynell Freeman, LWVC Trudy Schafer Public Policy Fellow, joined advocates with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Pillars of the Community, and Initiate Justice, to meet with state Senators about AB 544 (Bryan), a bill we are co-sponsoring to provide grants for a pilot program to improve voter participation in jails. Chynell shared the gravity of this legislation and what it meant to advocate for its passage:

“This issue is personal for me. When I advocate for AB 544, I stand with Black and Brown voices that are underrepresented in our democracy but constitute a majority of the jailed population. I’m advocating for my family members affected by the criminal justice system who lacked the tools and resources to exercise their civic duty. I’m advocating for my formerly incarcerated colleagues who shared that voting was their only connection to the outside, and it provided a powerful experience that kept them grounded to their community while inside. AB 544 isn’t simply a bill, it’s people’s voices who have historically been excluded from participating in the democratic process. AB 544 is a start in dismantling harmful practices that disenfranchise eligible voters. I’m proud to stand with the League, a cosponsor of this important legislation, to advocate on behalf of those who are unable to do so themselves to increase voter participation in jails.” 

Image of LWVC and Team for AB 544 (2024)

Chynell advocated for her family, colleagues, and also for the many Californians held in jail who are eligible to vote but are unaware that they can vote or lack access to ballots. She was joined in her lobbying by others who have been directly impacted by incarceration, sharing their stories about the alienating and hurtful impact that disenfranchisement had on their lives. This bill will provide much-needed access for eligible voters held in jails and is a step forward to ensure democracy works for everyone. In the coming weeks, AB 544 will be heard in the Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments and afterward in the Senate Public Safety Committee. The work done by Chynell and this team demonstrates the power of personal experience in changing policy. The LWVC is proud to co-sponsor AB 544.

Championing Change: California’s Sheriff Oversight Group Drives Statewide Push for Accountability and Justice Against Police Violence

In 2019, the LWVC advocated for AB 1185 (McCarty), a bill to make sure civilians have a say in police accountability. After the bill was introduced, our nation witnessed the deplorable murder of George Floyd, and the subsequent national outcry that shed a glaring light on the longstanding incidence of police violence. The protests and calls for accountability brought attention to the extraordinary power that elected county sheriffs hold over law enforcement, conditions of county jails, use-of-force policies, court-ordered evictions, policies related to cooperation with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and other areas breeding grounds of injustice. 

With the passage of AB 1185 in 2020, California took a monumental step toward establishing transparency and accountability of law enforcement while rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Because the law allows but does not require the creation of civilian review boards, local Leagues and the LWVC’s Sheriff Oversight Group (led by LWVC volunteer Norma Nelson) have been working to educate community members and support the creation of sheriff oversight boards in counties across the state.

This month, the LWVC and the ACLU of Northern California joined forces to co-host the formal kick-off for the California Coalition for Sheriff Oversight. As explained by Stephanie Doute, Executive Director of the LWVC, “Expanding civilian oversight across California is a critical step toward true accountability and justice. This coalition empowers communities to demand transparency and ensures that sheriff departments serve and protect everyone fairly. Together, we are driving a powerful movement to strengthen trust and integrity in law enforcement statewide.” You can watch the recording of the event here.

Four years have passed since George Floyd’s murder, yet the fight against police violence persists. The LWVC remains steadfast in its coalition efforts, dedicated to ongoing accountability and justice. To join the LWVC’s Sheriff Oversight Group, please contact Chynell Freeman at cfreeman@lwvc.org.  

Continuing the Legislative Drive: Upholding Progress and Purpose

There are many other bills that we’ve been working to move forward this session. Here are some key highlights.

SB 977 (Laird) will require San Luis Obispo County to establish a Citizens Redistricting Commission to adjust district boundaries in accordance with California’s local redistricting law and the FAIR Maps Act of 2023. The League supports a redistricting process and standards that promote fair and effective representation with maximum opportunity for public engagement. The League of Women Voters of San Luis Obispo County has been deeply engaged in working to ensure the fairness of local redistricting. Last year, they intervened in a 2022 lawsuit regarding the fairness of the Board-approved district boundaries. The resulting settlement required San Luis Obispo County to set aside the adopted map and reconsider alternative maps from the redistricting process, one of which was later adopted. SB 977 has moved through the state Senate and is now moving through the Assembly. Check out our letter of support here.

AB 884 (Low) will make voting easier for people who speak languages other than English. California has the nation’s highest proportion of households that speak a language other than English at home and millions of Californians who identify as limited-English proficient (LEP). AB 884 will improve language assistance and require counties to provide translated ballots to smaller language communities. The League will voice its support for this legislation during state Senate hearings. Check out our letter of support here.

The New Motor Voter Program has successfully registered nearly 25 million Californians through the Department of Motor Vehicles since its launch in 2018. Much of the program’s success has been accomplished through a partnership between government agencies and voting rights organizations like the LWVC. That partnership was formalized through a task force that is scheduled to sunset in 2025. But the need for the task force will not end in 2025. Several important elements of the law will not go into effect until July 2025, and the task force plays a vital role in monitoring their rollout. Despite the successes of the New Motor Voter program, more than 4.5 million eligible adults in California remain unregistered. This group disproportionately includes youth, people with disabilities, Black and Brown people, those with limited English proficiency, and those with low income. The task force plays a critical role in recommending solutions to facilitate the registration of underrepresented communities. AB 2127 (Berman) is an LWVC co-sponsored bill to extend the operation of the task force for five years to January 2030. The extension would allow the task force to continue its work, avoid the rollback of critical gains that the DMV has made in increasing voter registration and keeping registrations current, and allow us to improve the system to promote more equitable access to voter registration. Read more about the bill in our letter. AB 2127 is currently moving through the Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments and the Senate Transportation Committee.

Gearing Up for November – Election Resources Underway

There are less than 6 months until the 2024 Presidential Election, and the LWVC is in full swing to plan and prepare election resources utilized by millions of voters in each election. 

Visit easvoterguide.org

The Easy Voter Guide (EVG) for November begins by teaming up with public libraries and adult literacy program directors. Together, we will craft a guide that breaks down state propositions and voting steps into clear, understandable language. This year, we will dive deep with four sessions for adult learners to review and refine the EVG draft content. This step is pivotal as we gear up to translate the guide into Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean. Stay tuned for a voting resource that speaks to everyone!

The California VOTE411 team consists of over 100 passionate volunteers who power our online election guide. These dynamic volunteers will be our front line for the November election, reaching out to local candidates to complete their VOTE411 profiles and gathering crucial info on local measures for the ballot. More than ever with the gravity of this election, we need to ensure voters have the information they need to make an informed vote. Thank you to all local Leagues who have supported the cost of VOTE411 with your donations!

Visit VOTE411.org (logo)

One Person One Vote – Abolish the Electoral College

Update on Advocacy (section header)

The LWVC is proud to stand with the League of Women Voters of the United States (LWVUS) by joining the One Person One Vote campaign to abolish the Electoral College. Five times in American history, the will of the people was overridden, as the presidential candidate with the most votes did not win the presidency. Five times, millions of votes were silenced. This is because our system does not prioritize the power of its people, but the power of the Electoral College.

The Electoral College is an outdated relic initially created by enslavers to disempower voters — especially Black voters. Today, it’s simply a threat to our democracy, as it puts the decision-making power in the hands of politically motivated Electoral College members rather than the American people.

It’s no surprise that most American voters want to eliminate the Electoral College. Just as we advocated for a more representative democracy in the early days of the women’s suffrage movement, we’re doing so now. The LWVUS created the One Person One Vote campaign to demand that the people’s voices be heard.

The One Person One Vote campaign aims to educate, engage, and activate the American people.

To achieve a new system for electing future presidents by direct popular vote, we must use a multi-pronged approach to:

  • Educate, engage, and activate communities to support a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College; 
  • Inform voters on how the Electoral Count Reform Act (ERCA) will impact the 2024 elections; and
  • Pass the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact by 2028.

One Person One Vote will move our nation beyond the archaic Electoral College and toward true representation — a democracy powered by the people, for the people.

Learn more about joining the campaign here.