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In Kern County, Voting Rights Bill Meets Opposition

Joe Moore
Valley Public Radio

Last week, the Kern County Board of Supervisors went on record against AB 280.  It’s a California bill that would require counties with high minority populations to get approval from Sacramento before making major changes in election procedure. 

For instance, before moving a polling site location, Kern County would need to get the ok from the California Secretary of State to ensure that it’s not discriminating against minorities and low-income voters.

Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez says that would be far too costly.

Perez: "The process by which the county would have to engage in determining these sites, getting them to the Secretary of State very early on, would really impose a remarkable burden on our elections division, it would be very expensive."

According to Perez, moving polling locations could cost the county as much as $700,000 per major election.  She says the county supports the spirit of the bill, but it’s just not practical.

At this point, Kern County has no say in whether or not the bill passes.  But Jessica Levinson of Loyola Law School says the county’s opposition is more than symbolic.

Levinson: "Kern County coming out and saying this is going to be too costly, it’s going to be too time consuming, could give some politicians who are predisposed not to want to vote for the bill anyway, some cover, or it could sway some people who are on the fence."

Levinson says that in some jurisdictions, legislation that protects voters is needed—and that some states are already feeling the vacuum left behind by the federal Voting Rights Act.

Levinson: "That’s why we see so many voting rights changes. We see elimination of early voting, we see changes in registration laws, we see a number of states implementing voter ID. So we see a lot of proposals or laws that make voting more difficult."

Under the federal Voting Rights Act, 4 California counties had been singled out as needing voter protections. Under AB 280, any county with a minority population of more than 20% would qualify.

AB 280 has passed the State Assembly and is currently in the Senate.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
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