SAN FRANCISCO — The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles, and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati today filed suit against Secretary of State Alex Padilla demanding increased access to language assistance for limited English proficient voters in California.
Secretary Padilla provided a directive to county election officials in December that would deprive tens of thousands of California voters of the language assistance to which they are entitled under state law. Some of the most severely impacted are voters who speak Spanish, Farsi, Arabic, Japanese, and Russian, but speakers of 34 different languages are affected.
State law says limited English proficient citizens should be encouraged to vote and requires appropriate efforts to minimize obstacles to participating in elections. The lawsuit calls on Padilla to reissue his coverage determinations so they are consistent with California Elections Code.
“We hope a judge will correct this injustice so that voters, regardless of language ability, can participate fully and equally in the November election,” said Linda Lye, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Foundation of Northern California. “California should be at the forefront of encouraging robust voter participation by our state’s diverse communities.”
State law requires assistance for voters in each county or precinct where 3 or more percent of the voting age residents are members of a language minority and lack skills to vote without language help. That assistance includes providing access to translated facsimile ballots that voters can use as a reference while voting on an English ballot. Secretary Padilla improperly limited the scope of coverage when he determined the jurisdictions that are entitled to the assistance.
“There are thousands of precincts that will not receive the necessary language assistance under the current directive,” said Deanna Kitamura of Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles. “We should not be creating additional hurdles in order for groups to receive the language assistance they are entitled to under California law.”
“As the state with the most immigrant voters in the nation, California has an obligation to lead our nation in reducing barriers to voting for those with limited English skills,” said Jonathan Stein of Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus. “This is particularly true in an era in which the federal government and many states are trying to walk voting rights backwards.”
“We are proud to be representing plaintiffs in this critical case,” said David J. Berger, a partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. “We will do all we can to ensure that California provides all its citizens the opportunity to vote, including providing the required language assistance.”
The case, , was filed in San Francisco Superior Court.