By Dora Rose and Brittany Stonesifer
With our nation’s democracy facing existential threats, California’s duty to protect and empower every eligible voter in the state has never been more urgent. Although we often lead the nation with innovative laws designed to defend voting rights, thousands of eligible voters continue to face disenfranchisement because California has not enacted basic safeguards. Gov. Gavin Newsom has an opportunity to help all eligible California voters, including those who are underrepresented, by signing new legislation into law.
Assembly Bill 2841 by Assemblymember Evan Low is aimed at tackling two fundamental issues: making sure that people are not mistakenly dropped from the voting rolls, and guaranteeing that people with disabilities under conservatorship get the voting protections they are due.
By law, California voters are not informed when elections officials remove them from the voting rolls based on information received from government agencies. This means that eligible voters who are mistakenly purged often do not realize the error until they are ready to vote. Studies show that such erroneous cancellations disproportionately harm voters who are already underrepresented, including those who are Black, Brown, indigenous or other people of color, low-income and young people.
AB 2841 will require county elections officials to notify voters before they are removed from the rolls and allow eligible voters to stop mistaken registration cancellations before they take place. States across the country already have adopted these research-supported best practices for preventing faulty voter purges.
For example, Florida sends a pre-cancellation notice to voters and gives 30 days to correct mistakes, while New York gives voters two weeks. Pennsylvania and Kentucky also notify voters who have been flagged for registration cancellation so they have a chance to address errors before election season arrives.
AB 2841 also will protect the rights of voters with disabilities by providing greater statewide oversight for people under conservatorships. Voters with disabilities are underrepresented in our democracy—during the last national election, voters with disabilities were less likely to vote than the overall eligible voter population. Eligible individuals with disabilities who are under conservatorship face unique challenges in exercising their right to vote.
Voters under conservatorship may vote unless a court has specifically decreed that an individual cannot vote. The court is also limited by laws that say only individuals in conservatorship who cannot communicate a desire to vote may be denied the right to vote. An individual may petition a court to have their right to vote restored.
California has made important strides in recent years to address the alarmingly high rates at which people with disabilities are disenfranchised in conservatorship cases. Unfortunately, research by the American Civil Liberties Union raises doubts that eligible voters with disabilities in every county actually are receiving the protections they deserve. AB 2841 would help provide the consistency and transparency required to make sure all eligible Californians under conservatorship are able to vote.
Voting is a pillar of our democracy. Any time an eligible voter is incorrectly purged from registration rolls, the fundamental right to vote is denied and our democracy is weakened. While California prides itself on being a voting rights state, we are falling behind when it comes to adopting some simple yet effective best practices to protect voters.
With the national spotlight on the importance of our democracy, now is the time to ensure that eligible California voters are no longer wrongly excluded from the ballot box. AB 2841 will protect eligible—and disproportionately underrepresented—voters from disenfranchisement.
Dora Rose is the deputy director of the League of Women Voters of California. Brittany Stonesifer is a staff attorney for the ACLU of Northern California. This is a guest commentary from CalMatters, an independent public journalism venture covering California state politics and government.