Should California voters have the day off to get to the polls and fulfill their civic duty? One Silicon Valley lawmaker thinks so, and his landmark bill is one step closer to becoming law.
Assemblyman Evan Low’s Assembly Bill 177, which could establish a statewide Election Day holiday, is moving ahead in the legislative process.
Low’s bill, co-authored by Assembly Members Rob Bonta, Adam Gray and Chris Holden, was approved Wednesday by the Assembly Committee on Governmental Organization by a vote of 13-6. It now needs approval by the Committee on Appropriations, before it heads to the state Assembly and Senate floor. Should it pass those obstacles, Gov. Gavin Newsom would decide whether to sign the bill into law.
Under AB 177, state agencies and schools would be required to give their employees Election Day off from work — and schools would close — so voters can head to the polls.
“When less than half of the electorate shows up to vote, our democracy suffers,” Low said in a statement Thursday. “Establishing an Election Day Holiday will demonstrate California’s strong and unwavering commitment to an engaged electorate and ensure more Californians have the opportunity to vote.”
Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters Shannon Bushey told San José Spotlight she supports creating the holiday.
“I think it would be a benefit for voters because it would provide more flexibility for a voter to get out and vote on election day,” Bushey said.
Bushey said more can be done to increase voter participation too, noting that a combination of the holiday and the creation of vote centers would be helpful to boost voter participation.
Increasing voter turnout ahead of the consequential 2020 elections is a major focus for Silicon Valley leaders.
Santa Clara County legislators are exploring a plan to roll out all-mail elections in 2020 and replace precinct polling places with 125 “vote centers” that would be open for up to 11 days before Election Day. The changes are spurred by Senate Bill 450, the Voter’s Choice Act.
And San Jose Assemblyman Ash Kalra recently introduced legislation to prioritize putting vote centers on college campuses in an effort to reach youth voters.
“It would definitely provide more opportunity for voters to get out and vote,” Bushey said. “We’re always striving to reach 100 percent turnout, which a lot of elections really fall short of that.”
Oladotun Hospidales, 22, vice president of Associated Students at San Jose State University, said voting on a day when most people are at school or work limits civic engagement, which means a lack of representation in communities.
“The United States is one of the only countries that doesn’t normalize voting,” Hospidales said. “We all vote on a day where we work… You’re already eliminating a significant pool of voters.”
He said creating the holiday would help open that voting pool back up.
“It would be beneficial for all parties involved, instead of for a select few,” Hospidales said. “What is democracy if you don’t have all the voices at the table?”
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