Secretary of State Alex Padilla talks 2020 elections with immigration leaders
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla enters the SIREN office in San Jose on Wednesday. Photo by Kyle Martin.

    As Democrats flood into the 2020 presidential election, many local elections officials and advocacy organizations are gearing up to ensure immigrant voters in the South Bay get informed and to the polls.

    California Secretary of State Alex Padilla on Wednesday stopped by the Services, Immigrant Rights and, and Education Network (SIREN) office to discuss immigrant advocacy, 2020 election preparations and voter fraud with the organization’s leaders.

    He met with SIREN officials in San Jose after a day-long conference on election security hosted by Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Joe Simitian at Google’s campus in Mountain View.

    According to Santa Clara County data, 625,462 of the county’s 885,764 registered voters cast a ballot in the November general election last year. Padilla and SIREN representatives said voter turnout spiked around the state because of California’s 2016 Voter’s Choice Act, which ensured voters in five counties —  Sacramento, Nevada, Napa, Madera, and San Mateo — receive a mail-in ballot 28 days prior to the election. But Santa Clara County has not yet passed such legislation.

    “I think the time is now to call the supervisors here in Santa Clara to encourage them to move in that direction,” Padilla said in support of the voter act. “In the five counties that had the Voter’s Choice Act, they all exceeded the record statewide turnout — all of them.”

    Maricela Gutiérrez, SIREN’s executive director, said her organization’s goal is to be at the forefront of that movement and to lead statewide policies to increase voter turnout.

    California Secretary of State Alex Padilla speaks with SIREN executive director Maricela Gutiérrez, and policy and program director, Priya Murthy, during a visit to San Jose on Wednesday. Photo by Kyle Martin.

    Voter fraud in California is “rare”

    Gutiérrez questioned the state’s top election official on voter fraud, asking him to provide a state or federal perspective on what California voters can expect in next year’s presidential election. Her question came as President Donald Trump raised the specter of voter fraud in the 2020 elections, recently tweeting that Congressional Democrats are “trying to win an election in 2020 that they know they cannot legitimately win!”

    “Has it impacted the communities as far as harming the turnout?” Gutiérrez asked.

    Padilla shot down any suspicions of statewide voter fraud or election hacking, saying “we take it very seriously,” and that “we know we’re doing everything the right way in California.”

    “Whenever we hear about it, we say, ‘Where’s the proof? Where’s the evidence? What makes you suspicious?’” Padilla said. “When the person who’s currently sitting in the Oval Office makes these broad claims that there’s massive voter fraud, we know it’s B.S.”

    After the meeting, Padilla told San José Spotlight that he doesn’t believe that “election security and accessibility are mutually exclusive.”

    “We can have both,” Padilla said, “and that’s what we’re doing in California.”

    As SIREN ramps up its efforts to increase voter participation in upcoming elections, particularly within immigrant and non-English speaking communities, undocumented immigrants’ voting rights are a leading concern of local advocates.

    SIREN officials emphasized support for the reintroduction of the Obama-era DREAM Act with no restrictions, which California House Democrats will present before Congress on March 12.

    In November, San Francisco became the largest city in the nation to allow non-citizens to vote in local elections, restricting such voters to school board elections only. The San Francisco Chronicle reported only 49 people signed up to vote.

    Citizenship question on 2020 Census

    Another hot-button issue on Wednesday was the Trump administration’s recent attempt to add a citizenship question to the U.S. Census next year.

    “The efforts to add a citizenship question is something we’re going to have to overcome. I hope for the best, but prepare for the worst when it comes to the Supreme Court,” Padilla said at the end of the meeting.

    Padilla said getting people to participate in the census is “always a struggle,” and “the more people that the state census staff hears from, the better.”

    Earlier Wednesday, a Northern California U.S. District Court ruled in favor of San Jose in its lawsuit over the Trump administration’s attempt to add a 2020 census citizenship question.

    “Today, the courts reaffirmed our promise that in San José, everyone counts,” Mayor Liccardo said in a prepared statement.“By rejecting the Trump Administration’s attempt to stoke fear and depress participation in the 2020 Census, this decision helps protect critical funding for the essential services – such as healthcare, housing, and education – upon which all our residents depend.”

    Contact Kyle Martin at [email protected] or follow him @Kyle_Martin35 on Twitter.

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