Voting Rights Coalition Demands Immediate Systemic Election Reforms in Alameda County

Election Operation Errors Disenfranchised Voters

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SAN FRANCISCO  Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus (Asian Law Caucus), Oakland Rising, and the ACLU Foundation of Northern California (ACLU-NC) demand that the Alameda County Registrar of Voters (ROV) take immediate action to remedy the disenfranchisement of voters that occurred in the November general election, and to increase transparency and compliance with voting rights laws for future elections. A coalition of nonprofit and community organizations sent a letter to the ROV today regarding key failings that include:

  • Language access issues that prevented limited English-speaking community members from accessing the vote;
  • Delayed installment of ballot drop boxes that prevented voters from accessing a critical ballot return method during the COVID-19 pandemic; and
  • Inadequate training of poll workers, which deprived approximately 200 residents their right to vote, along with inaccurate guidance and information from Alameda County’s voter hotline.

“Language access is an essential part of fair elections, where all eligible immigrant voters have meaningful access to the ballot,” says Julia Marks, Staff Attorney, Voting Rights & Census at Asian Law Caucus. “We demand that the ROV fully comply with language access laws in future elections, so voters receive the language assistance they need.”

Asian Law Caucus’s poll monitoring program identified a pattern of violations of state language access laws at more than two dozen voting locations in Alameda County, where legally required posted copies of translated reference ballots were missing. The ROV failed to acknowledge that the problem was systemic and did not take steps to ensure it would not repeat across locations until the Asian Law Caucus and ACLU-NC threatened litigation.

“The right to vote is one of the most fundamental pillars of democracy. The fact that hundreds, if not more, people from working-class and immigrant communities faced serious barriers to exercising this right is totally unacceptable. We call on the ROV to take immediate and decisive action to ensure these voters’ ballots are cast and that the barriers they faced are addressed and rectified now and for all future elections,” says Jessamyn Sabbag, Executive Director of Oakland Rising

All eligible residents in Alameda County should have equal access to the vote, no matter where they live. However, ballot drop boxes were installed late in many areas, including West Oakland. Inadequate poll worker training and inaccurate information from the County hotline also resulted in missing and unprocessed ballots at the Mills College voting location, which primarily serves low-income and Black communities in Oakland. Voters were sent home with their ballot print out, instead of submitting their ballot for processing by the ROV. Advocates urge the ROV to rectify this error immediately before the end of the vote canvas, so that those votes can be counted.

Angélica Salceda, Democracy & Civic Engagement Director at ACLU-NC says, “The Alameda County Registrar of Voters cannot ignore his legal obligation to provide equal access to the vote. This responsibility is especially crucial for people of color and low-income people—communities that stand at greatest risk of disenfranchisement. The Registrar must take immediate steps to rectify the procedural and informational errors that disenfranchised Oakland voters this year and ensure that they never happen again. To do otherwise would be to demonstrate a lack of accountability.”

Errors in providing language access and ballot collection were exacerbated by the ROV's failure to timely respond to inquiries and concerns. The ROV's responsiveness to community groups, advocates, and even poll workers is lacking and this failure to communicate makes any training issues and policy deficiencies even more damaging. The coalition is calling on the ROV to improve transparency, accountability, and communication with civil rights groups and community organizations going forward.

About the Advocacy Groups

The letter was sent by a coalition consisting of Asian Law Caucus, Oakland Rising, ACLU-NC, California Common Cause, the League of Women Voters of California, Disability Rights California, FairVote, Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, Causa Justa :: Just Cause, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Parent Voices Oakland, East Bay Community Foundation, Bay Rising, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and Mujeres Unidas y Activas.

These civil rights, good government, and civic engagement organizations share a common goal to ensure all eligible voters have access to the vote.

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