California Democratic Party Needs Lesson in Voter Suppression

This weekend I voted in my first California ADEM election in Oceanside (AD76). What should have been a simple election to select delegates to the state convention was anything but. It took thirty minutes to get through the line but when I finished signing in, I was asked by the volunteer poll worker, “Will you be paying with cash or check?” I was then told there was a $5 fee to vote and when I asked if it was mandatory, the volunteer quickly pulled a wad of cash from her pocket and insisted on paying for me. As I was collecting my ballot, I noticed my wife having a similar interaction with a different poll worker. The district Convener, Richard Duquette, quickly interrupted the conversation and told her the fee was required and that she needed to exit the line if she was going to be belligerent (she was not). Duquette then abruptly walked away into the polling location and my wife was quietly handed a ballot by another poll worker who confirmed that the fee was not required. Our experience wasn’t isolated and there were additional issues reported throughout the day by voters including: running out of ballots, long lines, voter intimidation, and Duquette walking out with the ballot boxes before the official votes had been tallied.

Line outside the AD76 polling location in Oceanside on January 7, 2017

Duquette made the following post to Facebook on January 4, 2017:

For clarification of the “Procedures for Election”, see the rules prorogated Nov 19,2016 by the CDP Rules Committee, per Bylaws Article VI, section 2. Also look at page 5 of 21 of said rules which can be found on line or by calling the State HQ. Emma Harper is in charge. Her number is 916–503–7302.

I hope that helps you understand the rules and policy behind them. BELOW is a helpful color flyer link from the state office on the issue.

(Thanks Ms Mead for your follow up ;-)

GENUINE hardship requests will be considered on an individual basis.

Facebook screen capture of Richard Duquette’s post on January 4, 2017

This is the section in the California ADEM bylaws that dictates a $5 contribution for voters:

A registration fee for all voting participants, for the purpose of defraying the cost of the Election Meeting, shall be collected. Such fee shall not exceed five dollars ($5.00). The registration fee shall be waived for those participants who claim economic hardship.

This rule appears to have been interpreted differently at each district election across the state. In AD76, voters requesting an economic hardship were required to submit to an interview about their hardship and then placed in a separate line while they waited to vote. In other districts, it was reported that the $5 fee was presented as an optional donation. But to debate the interpretation or merits of this bylaw is missing the point. Simply requesting monetary contributions at an election is unethical. It’s illegal in state and national elections and should be outlawed from party elections too.

After reconstruction and [edit: during the 1960’s] Jim Crow rule of the South, the Republican party implemented a number of discriminatory tactics to keep African Americans away from the voting polls. From poll taxes to literacy tests, these laws kept African American voter registration rates well below 10% in many counties. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that these tactics were made illegal and it gave the Federal government a vehicle to protect Americans from voter suppression at the state level.

We now know from empirical data studies that when voting barriers are in place, no matter the severity, they effect certain demographics differently. When we make it more difficult to vote, ethnic minorities, elderly, students, and the poor are less likely to participate. In recent years, the GOP has endorsed voter ID laws, elimination of same day voter registration, elimination of early voting in states, and gerrymandering to keep those less likely to vote Republican from the polls. The Democratic Party strongly opposes these barriers — when voting is made more accessible, Democratic candidates do better in elections. To impose a perceived poll tax in our party elections is in diametric opposition of the platform and it tells some Democratic voters, “You are not welcome to the table when it comes to building our future platform and identity.”

We must hold the California Democratic Party to the same standard we hold the GOP in national and state elections by eliminating all monetary contribution requests from party election bylaws.

“The right to vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent instrument or tool that we have in our democratic society.” — Congressman John Lewis

UPDATE: January 25, 2017

I received the following email from the California Democratic Party:

The short answer is that the provision to collect the $5 (in order to help defray the expenses of the event) has been in the CDP By-laws for more than 10 years. Also, you’ll be pleased to know that the Rules Committee has already proposed the elimination of the fee for the next cycle (to take place in January 2019). We expect that provision to be in place by the time the Guidelines for 2019 are adopted.