SACRAMENTO—California’s Assembly today approved and sent to the Senate a proposal to help Native Americans gain greater access to the electoral process.
AB 2314 by Assemblymember James C. Ramos (D-Highland) would authorize the Secretary of State to create an advisory committee. Approved on a 67-0 vote, AB 2314 would:
Require the Secretary of State to consult with the advisory committee to consider recommendations making voting more accessible for Native American voters;
Require committee appointees to have demonstrated experience with voting rights or be a county elections official;
Require that the committee consist of the Secretary of State, the secretary’s designees and additional members appointed by the secretary.
“Native Americans were denied American citizenship and voting rights until 1924, and that history had a chilling effect on electoral and civic participation,” Ramos said. He was 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.
“Even after gaining citizenship, not all tribes were given full access to the precious right to cast a ballot,” Ramos added. These factors, he observed, are why voter turnout among Native Americans is five to 14 percent lower than that of other ethnic or racial groups.
Ramos noted 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 only possess tribal identification, which is 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. Voting also impacts 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 Native American voters face in 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 sponsored by Secretary of State Padilla and supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of California, California Native Vote Project, California Teachers Association, Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation and the Yurok Tribe.
Assemblymember James Ramos proudly represents the 40th Assembly district which includes Highland, Loma Linda, Mentone, Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands, and San Bernardino