AB 1301: An Attempt to Eliminate Persistent Voter Discrimination
The University of the Pacific Law Review, Vol. 47, Forthcoming
21 Pages Posted: 11 Apr 2016 Last revised: 21 Apr 2016
Date Written: April 5, 2016
The Golden State’s patina of persistent voter discrimination is an embarrassment. In response to the U.S. Supreme Court striking down the federal Voting Rights Act preclearance review in Shelby County v. Holder, California’s legislature passed a new preclearance system designed to combat discriminatory “known practices.” Assembly Bill 1301 (AB 1301), authored by Assembly Members Reggie Sawyer-Jones and Luis Alejo, passed through committees and the legislature largely among party lines. Opponents of AB 1301 derided the preclearance review as administrative waste, unnecessary state oversight, and threatening charter city Home Rule.
But Governor Brown pumped the brakes on the progressive cause and vetoed AB 1301 despite his commitments to “jealously protect” voting rights. Governor Brown was “unconvinced that a California-only pre-clearance system is needed.”
AB 1301 targeted four categories of “known practice” voting-related laws, regulations, and policies that frequently cause discrimination. The first category provided oversight to changes to an at-large method of election that “adds offices elected at-large or converts offices elected by single-member districts to one or more at-large or multimember districts.” The second category scrutinized changes to an electoral jurisdiction’s boundaries that reduce the relative size of a protected class of voters by five percent or more within the jurisdiction. The third category addressed changes to district boundaries within an electoral jurisdiction that experienced a significant population increase of a single protected class. Finally, the fourth category monitored changes to non-English language voting materials that did not apply to English language voting materials or that reduced the availability of non-English language voting materials.
This article reviews the legal background and language of AB 1301, and it also analyzes the potential impact of the bill had it been enacted.
Keywords: preclearance review, VRA, Voting Rights Act, Shelby County v. Holder, Known Practices Coverage, California State Senate, California State Assembly, Jerry Brown, multimember districts, at-large districts, elections, voting, voters, voter discrimination, home rule, charter cities
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