featured graphic for Thomas Umberg, California State Senator for District 34, during COVID-19

Senator Umberg introduces elections reform measures to protect voters and election workers

On the first day of the 2021-22 Legislative Session, Senator Thomas Umberg (D-Santa Ana) introduced and/or coauthored four measures pertaining to elections reform and equity. “I have fought for fair and just elections my entire career,” said Senator Umberg. “Given the circumstances, it is worth mentioning that California’s November 2020 Presidential Election was an unqualified success. But this is an area where we must always pay attention – and in that vein, and in memory of Congressmember John Lewis, who was an ardent and vigilant defender of voting — there continue to be things we can do to make our elections process more efficient and protect the voting rights of all Californians.”

The bills introduced by Senator Umberg are:

SB 29 – Minimum In-Person Voting Standards for Counties Conducting Elections in 2021
California conducted a safe, secure, and accurate November 2020 Presidential Election due, in large part, to SB 423 (2020) authored by Senator Umberg. The historic turnout for the 2020 election was 80.7% (as of early December) despite the pandemic. SB 423 and this year’s successor, SB 29, set statewide minimum standards for counties to conduct safe and accessible in-person voting procedures in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. Both voters and election workers need to be guaranteed a safe environment in order to conduct elections. This bill will guarantee that all eligible voters living in jurisdictions conducting elections in 2021 will be mailed a vote-by-mail ballot in order to give the option for individuals to vote at home if they wish.

Orange County Employees Association General Manager Charles Barfield said “We would like to thank Senator Umberg for being a leader on protecting our employees when they do the important work of conducting our elections. The minimum standards of PPE for our workers and proper social distancing guarantees that Californians can continue to vote in-person if they wish, but that we will also not be risking the health of our employees or the public when Californians practice their right to vote.”

SB 34 – Increased Penalties for Unofficial or Fraudulent Vote Centers
In light of reports from the fall of unofficial ballot boxes and unofficial vote centers operating illegally, Senator Umberg introduced SB 34 to clarify the basic guidelines for the operation of ballot drop boxes and vote centers.
“I found it outrageous that voters were led, by partisan campaigns to believe that filing cabinets with placards were “official” ballot boxes. In addition, I know of at least one investigation that is underway regarding a campaign office that claimed to be an official vote center,” said Senator Umberg. “I am committed to working on this issue in 2021 to make sure that no voter is being taken advantage of and any attempt to confuse or manipulate the public will be addressed with the seriousness that it deserves.”

SB 35 – Extension of the Polling Place Buffer Outside of Polling Places
With the need for social distancing, some areas of California this November saw lines that extended beyond the front door of polling places. Current law prohibits electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place, but reexamination of that distance is necessary after some allegations were made about campaigning and intimidation as voters waited in line outside to vote.

“Given my history in this area, I was alarmed when calls were coming from the highest office in the land for members of the public to go to polling places and take it upon themselves to make determinations on who was and wasn’t allowed to vote,” said Senator Umberg. “I personally saw video from Southern California of a car caravan rally that took over a polling place parking lot, with voters approaching and then turning away out of apparent discomfort. This type of intimidation cannot be allowed in California and I committed to making sure all eligible voters can safely exercise their right to vote.”

When Senator Umberg was an Assistant US Attorney, he investigated and eventually passed laws making voter intimidation at the polls a crime: https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-10-01/donald-trump-poll-watchers-curt-pringle-poll-guards

AB 37 – Permanent Universal Vote-By-Mail Elections
In addition to authoring three bills aimed at protecting voters and election workers, Senator Umberg is the Principal Co-Author of AB 37 by Assemblymember Berman. AB 37 will make California a permanent universal vote-by-mail state, where every eligible voter will receive a ballot.

“The success of this November’s election makes it clear that California needs to be a permanent vote-by-mail state. More and more people are choosing to vote by mail. We continue to see a record turnout, and voters have improved faith that their right to vote is protected,” said Senator Umberg. “It is time for California to follow the lead of Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Colorado, and Utah and make sure eligible voters has safe and accessible access to the polls.”

This article was released by the Office of Senator Thomas Umberg.