Asm Rob Bonta
ASSEMBLY | Non-citizens in California may soon be able to help voters at the polls. A bill by Oakland Assemblymember Rob Bonta passed the Assembly Thursday, 46-22, that would allow up to five permanent residents to work at Election Day polling location and possibly aid voters lacking proficiency in English. The bill awaits Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature.
Despite its easy passage following approval of slight amendments in the State Senate, Republicans led by Assemblymember Tim Donnelly lodged a spirited debate. “In order to become a citizen, you have to actually exhibit your proficiency in English,” said Donnelly, a potential gubernatorial candidate next year. “We’re essentially saying we’re going to change everything.” Donnelly added Bonta’s bill will undermine voter confidence in the election process.
However, Donnelly’s reference to military personnel veered the discussion to an entirely different place, unrelated to the bill on the floor. Watsonville Assemblymember Luis Alejo demanded an apology, while another Republican assembly member attempted to add an amendment to the bill recognizing servicemen.
“I think people are observing and recognizing and calling out a paradox those lawful permanent residents are allowed to serve in the military, but not allowed to serve as poll workers,” Bonta said on the Assembly floor.
The notion non-citizens would aid voters lacking a strong grasp of English was challenged by Modesto Assemblymember Kristin Olsen. Under the law, poll workers cannot enter the voting booth, read election materials; only hand them ballots. “None of this requires nuances of the English language,” she said.
Over 3 million voters in the state are not English-proficient, said Bonta, and a shortage of multi-lingual poll workers will likely get larger with further changes in demographics. According to the bill, polling inspectors must be citizens. Idaho and Washington state already allow permanent residents to work polling places.