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California voters who don’t speak English will get more help in 2018

 (Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty Images)
(Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty Images)

California elections officials will have to provide more voting materials in the languages of a community’s voters — including sample ballots — under a law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday.

Assembly Bill 918 was inspired in part by reports showing a sizable number of limited-English-speaking voters in 2016 had very little of the help that existing laws require in casting ballots.

The report, by Asian Americans Advancing Justice-California, found an average of 25% of polling places required to provide a "facsimile ballot" in another language actually did so. In some larger counties, the single copy of the non-English ballot was missing from as many as 40% of the precincts visited by the group’s volunteers.

"California's current language access requirements are not sufficient to provide meaningful language assistance to limited-English-proficient voters and lack any reporting or oversight mechanisms," said Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), the bill's author.

The new law will require more copies of non-English sample ballots in specific precincts, and more signs in these polling places notifying voters with limited English skills of these election materials. The new law also requires more help for these voters who cast ballots by mail, and more information to be posted on local election websites about getting a copy of a “facsimile ballot.”

Bonta said earlier this year that about 550,000 Latino and Asian American Californians live in counties that aren’t covered by a more robust federal law governing access to non-English-language voting materials.

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