SACRAMENTO—Helping Native Americans gain greater access to the electoral process would be the mission of a Secretary of State advisory committee under a measure approved today in the Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting.
Assemblymember James C. Ramos (D-Highland), author of AB 2314, said, “Native Americans were denied American citizenship and voting rights until the 20th Century and that history had a chilling effect on electoral and civic participation.” Ramos, elected in 2018, hails from the Serrano/Cahuilla tribe and is a lifelong member of the San Manuel Indian Reservation in San Bernardino County. The lawmaker is the first California Indian elected to the Legislature.
“We weren’t granted American citizenship until 1924, and even then not all tribes were given full access to the precious right to cast a ballot,” Ramos said. These factors, he stated, are why voter turnout among Native Americans is five to 14 percent lower than that of other ethnic or racial groups.
AB 2314 would create an advisory committee to advise the Secretary of State on how to improve voter accessibility among Native American voters. It would consist of the Secretary of State, his or her designees and additional members appointed by the Secretary of State. All members of the panel will be required to have experience with voting rights or be a county election official.
Ramos said even after 1924, full voting rights for Indians were not guaranteed. Arizona and New Mexico barred Native Americans from voting up until 1948. American Indians also faced the same barriers to voting as African Americans and other minorities such as poll taxes, literacy tests and intimidation. Many Indians only possessed tribal identification, which was not recognized for voting purposes.
“That right to vote gives each person a say in how they will be governed, who will guide school districts and counties, a say in passing measures for parks, hospitals, roads, water lines, roads, libraries and more. It not only offers us a say in how we are governed, but also in how we and our families live,” Ramos said. “I look forward to the day when it is not unusual to have Native Americans in public office, and when I am not the only California Native American in the Legislature.”
Secretary of State Alex Padilla, the bill’s sponsor said, “Learning from the experience and expertise of voting rights experts and tribal representatives will help us address the unique challenges that Native American voters face to participating in our elections, both on and off the reservation. California’s nearly three quarters of a million Native Americans deserve to have their voices heard in our democracy."
Chairman Anthony Roberts of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation said, “Native Americans were denied the right to vote for so long by law. Today, many are still denied this right by practice. Obstacles like a lack of polling places and the rejection of certain types of identification remain. Until those obstacles are addressed, California’s Native Americans remain at risk of being excluded, with no voice in government, the education of their children, and other vital services.”
AB 2314 is supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of California, California Native Vote Project, California Teachers Association, Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation and the Yurok Tribe.
It was approved unanimously on a vote of 7 to 0, and committee members all asked to join the measure as co-authors.
Assemblymember James Ramos proudly represents the 40th Assembly district which includes Highland, Loma Linda, Mentone, Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands, and San Bernardino.