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131 VOTING RIGHTS IN CALIFORNIA: 1982–2006 JOAQUIN G. AVILA,* EUGENE LEE† AND TERRY M. AO‡ INTRODUCTION TO THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT The purpose of this report is to assess whether discrimination against minority voters and minority voting strength exists in California.1 In as-sessing whether such discrimination exists, this report will chronicle the ef-forts of minority communities in California to secure access to the political process utilizing the Voting Rights Act of 19652 (VRA) from 1982, the year the VRA was reauthorized and amended, to the present. This chroni-cle indicates that two important provisions of the VRA have played a piv-otal role in assisting racial and ethnic minority communities, as well as lan-guage minority groups,3 to secure greater access to the political process * Assistant Professor of Law at the Seattle University School of Law. † Project Director for the Asian Pacific American Legal Center for Southern California. ‡ Senior Staff Attorney with the Asian American Justice Center. 1 Excerpts of this report were presented before the Western Regional Hearing of the National Commission on the Voting Rights Act held on September 27, 2005 in Los Angeles, California. The findings and conclusions of this report are derived from original research conducted in preparation for this report commissioned by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund. These find-ings and conclusions have subsequently been incorporated in an article published by the Law Review for the Seattle University School of Law. See Joaquin G. Avila, The Washington 2004 Gubernatorial Election Crisis: The Necessity of Restoring Public Confidence in the Electoral Process, 29 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 313 (2006). Part of this report will also form the basis of a larger article to be submitted to the Stanford Journal of Civil Rights and Liberties. Part III of this report involving Section 203 of the Vot-ing Rights Act was prepared by Eugene Lee, Project Director, Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California and Terry M. Ao, Senior Staff Attorney, Asian American Justice Center. 2 Voting Rights Act of 1965, Pub. L. No. 89-110, 79 Stat. 437 (1965) (codified as amended at 42 U.S.C. §§ 1973 to 1973bb-1 (2000)). 3 The VRA provides protection to certain “language minority groups.” This term was included within the VRA to expand the application of the anti-discrimination provisions of the Act to racial and ethnic groups other than African-Americans. See 42 U.S.C. § 1973b(f)(2), (4). The term refers to indi-viduals who are American Indian, Asian-American, Alaska Natives and of Spanish heritage. See 42 U.S.C. § 1973aa-1a(c). The same term also is incorporated in language assistance provisions that re-quire certain political jurisdictions to provide an electoral process in a language from an applicable lan-guage minority group when persons belonging to the language minority group cannot effectively par-132 REVIEW OF LAW AND SOCIAL JUSTICE [Vol. 17:1 and, in some instances, to increase minority electoral representation: Sec-tion 54 and Section 203.5 However, the continued effectiveness of these provisions is in jeopardy since both of these provisions are due to expire in 2007.6 In addition, the results of this study support the conclusion that vot-ing discrimination is still a persistent hallmark of California electoral poli-tics that has prevented minority communities from completely achieving an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect candidates of their choice7 despite electoral gains by minority communities.8 ticipate in the political process because of their limited-English proficiency. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 1973b(f)(4), 1973aa-1a(c), (e). 4 42 U.S.C. § 1973c. A political jurisdiction subject to Section 5 must submit a change affecting voting to the United States Attorney General for administrative approval or preclearance. See id. If the Attorney General does not approve the voting change, the Attorney General issues a letter of objection. See 28 C.F.R. §§ 51.44(a), 51.52(c) (2007). The political jurisdiction can also file an action in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking a declaratory judgment approving the proposed vot-ing change even after the Attorney General has issued a letter of objection. See 42 U.S.C. § 1973c(a). Under Section 5, the burden is on the covered jurisdiction to demonstrate the absence of a discrimina-tory effect on minority voting strength and the absence of a discriminatory purpose in the adoption of the proposed voting change. See id.; see also South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301, 335 (1966). Section 5 has been effective. During the time period from June 19, 1968 to June 25, 2004, the Attorney General issued 1027 letters of objection. See Department of Justice, Section 5 Objection Determina-tions, http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting/sec_5/obj_activ.htm (last visited Nov. 11, 2007). These admin-istrative determinations prevented the implementation of voting changes that had the potential to dis-criminate against minority voting strength. Avila, supra note 1, at 330. Also, as noted previously, apart from the preclearance requirements, certain jurisdictions subject to Section 5 are also required to make elections more accessible to persons who are of limited-English proficiency and who belong to an ap-plicable language minority group. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 1973b(f)(4), 1973l(c)(3). This accessibility is ac-complished by providing translated written materials related to the electoral process in an applicable minority language, by providing bilingual oral assistance and by engaging in community outreach ef-forts to encourage language minority eligible voters of limited-English proficiency to register to vote and participate in the political process. See 42 U.S.C. § 1973b(f)(4); 28 C.F.R. §§ 55.5, 55.14–55.20. 5 42 U.S.C. § 1973aa-1a. As with the Section 5-covered jurisdictions subject to the language as-sistance provisions, Section 203-covered jurisdictions are also required to make elections more accessi-ble to persons who are of limited-English proficiency and who belong to an applicable language minor-ity group. See id. § 1973aa-1a(b). This accessibility is accomplished by meeting the same requirements for translated written materials, bilingual oral assistance and community outreach as specified for Sec-tion 5 covered jurisdiction. See id. §


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