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Top row (left to right): Chad Dunn, Sonja Diaz, Registrar Neal Kelley
Bottom row (left to right): Professor Pamela Karlan, Dr. Matt Barreto, Secretary Alex Padilla

By Eliza Moreno, Communications Manager, Latino Policy & Politics Initiative

On April 2nd, the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) and its marquee advocacy project, the UCLA Voting Rights Project, hosted a webinar that focused on the importance of vote-by-mail programs in upcoming primaries and the November general election amid the coronavirus pandemic. The webinar brought together the following voting rights experts: California Secretary of State Alex Padilla; Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley; Stanford Law School Professor Pamela Karlan; Chad Dunn, director of litigation at the Voting Rights Project; Matt Barreto, LPPI and Voting Rights Project co-founder; and Sonja Diaz, LPPI’s founding executive director. The webinar provided a space for leading voting rights experts to discuss the importance of protecting our democracy during this pandemic, the need to ensure communities of color are able to cast a meaningful ballot, and how other state government officials should try to transition to vote-by-mail.

The webinar discussed the importance of protecting our democracy by immediately implementing a nationwide vote-by mail system that enables full participation in the voting process, most especially during this health crisis. Professor Karlan stated, “This is not the first time Americans have voted during a crisis.” Professor Karlan referenced the Civil War as an example where a change in voting practices took place due to hardship. During the Civil War, various states changed their laws in order to allow Civil War soldiers to vote by absentee ballot. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla emphasized how although “we are living in unprecedented times as it pertains to public health and public health risks,” this nation has witnessed the resiliency of our democracy. In both times of peace and war, including prior flu pandemics, people have voted. It is critical that during these times all jurisdictions make vote-by-mail available in order to take the burden off of in-person voting.

There are various states with vote-by-mail accessible, such as Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and California, however, in other states vote-by-mail is nonexistent. Secretary Padilla said that although it may prove difficult, it is possible that all states adopt vote-by-mail, but “first comes the willingness, the vision, and leadership that is central in a pandemic.” It remains critical that we do not wait until October to take action. The time is now. Orange County Registrar of Voters, Neal Kelley, oversaw the transition to sending every registered voter a vote-by-mail ballot. Beginning in 2020, every voter in Orange County, regardless of how they registered, received a vote-by-mail ballot. A few years ago, under Secretary Padilla’s leadership, Orange County ended up with a bill that became law that mailed every voter a ballot, provided eleven days of in-person voting in any location in the county, and equipped voters with the capability to return their ballot in a variety of ways. Registrar Kelley shares that the percentage of vote-by-mail usage in Orange County’s jurisdiction was 60% when the transition first began, however, the usage rose to 82% in March’s primary, the highest in Orange County since 2000. Registrar Kelley assures others that “voters will adapt and are looking for opportunity for expanded access.”

Attendees of the webinar were concerned that lower-economic communities and communities of color would have a lower propensity in practicing their right to vote and utilizing vote-by-mail. Secretary Padilla clarified that the in-person option will be maintained for those who need assistance, however, vote-by-mail must still be made available for all. Outreach to communities of color are fundamental in encouraging them to practice their right to vote. Dr. Matt Barreto discusses how the Latino and Asian American community have record numbers of first time voters, therefore “let’s celebrate and engage them” on their right to vote and inform them on the methods of voting. Registrar Kelley believes in the importance of targeting messages to each community and addressing the issues that matter most to them. Additionally, voting materials must be made available in different languages, as required by the Voting Rights Act, however public education and voter education campaigns and materials remain vital to ensure that all voters are encouraged to practice their right to vote. Secretary Padilla emphasizes how “voting by mail is smart from a voting rights standpoint, public health standpoint, but it’s only as effective as we educate the public.”

As for the distrust of vote-by-mail and in response to cyber security and threats: you can‘t hack a paper ballot. There are methods in place to ensure the validating of a mail-in ballot, such as signature verification and matching. However, scholarship referenced in the Voting Rights Project report discusses how there is a higher percentage of ballots rejected by Latino and African American voters, therefore there is work to be done to prevent voter disenfranchisement, such as detailed and proper training for the operators who look at the ballots. Professor Karlan believes it is possible to instill a confidence that votes will be counted and counted fairly, it is a “technical problem that can be solved.”

When thinking of the upcoming November election, “it is not a matter of if, or a matter of when, the question is how do we provide the opportunity for people to vote because we must and we will,” as Secretary Padilla said. In order to protect our democracy amidst the pandemic, it is critical that there is a move towards universal vote-by-mail, while ensuring that all can practice their right to vote in a safe and healthy manner. Matt Barreto reminds us that “we have an opportunity to protect [our democracy] during this pandemic, but this is something that all states should be doing to encourage voter participation and engagement.” As of March 23, the UCLA Voting Rights Project had released one report, “Protecting Democracy: Implementing Equal and Safe Access to the Ballot Box During a Global Pandemic,” and two memos, “Improving the March 23, 2020 House Bill on Expanded Vote-by-Mail” and “Voting and Infection Prevention of COVID-19.” The publications raise an early call to action and address the safe and equitable implementation of a vote-by-mail program to encourage voter participation. As Chad Dunn, director of litigation at the Voting Rights Project, said at the close of the webinar, “It’s on all of us to double our commitment to democracy and find a way to make this work in all 50 states and territories.”

 

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Photo Credit: Nicholas Konrad, The New York Times

The UCLA Voting Rights project released a white paper this week, “Protecting Democracy:  Implementing Equal and Safe Access to the Ballot Box During a Global Pandemic,” with recommendations for voting officials to begin planning now for the implementation of a vote-by-mail program for upcoming primary elections and, most importantly, the November General Election.

This timely policy paper is an early call to action for the ongoing concern that the novel coronavirus will affect turnout in upcoming elections given the large and persistent public health campaign encouraging the public to practice “social distancing.” The paper urges Congress to immediately provide funding and guidance for a national vote-by-mail effort as part of current relief proposals to help with the economic impacts of the coronavirus. If Congress fails to act, the paper calls on state and local officials to step in. The paper also seeks to highlight the low-health risks and general safety to the public that voting by mail provides during this national emergency.

“States around the country are pushing back primary and runoff elections in the hope that election procedures can return to normal at a later time,” said Chad Dunn, co-founder of the UCLA Voting Rights Project and co-author of the report. “But hope is not a plan. We must prepare now to protect the fundamental right to vote.”

The UCLA Voting Rights Project is an applied research and direct service program of the Latino Politics & Policy Initiative, a partnership of the Division of Social Sciences and the Luskin School of Public Affairs. The UCLA VRP is focused on voting rights litigation, research, policy and training. The report is the first comprehensive review of vote by mail laws in the age of a pandemic, and it includes best practices on how to implement the measures most effectively and quickly. The report was made available to Congressional offices as coronavirus relief discussions are underway.

The white paper offers the following solutions to implement a universal vote-by-mail program by November:

  • Enroll voters immediately in a vote-by-mail program, allowing for an online registration option.
  • Provide a universal mail ballot and envelope to standardize the process and education efforts.
  • Work with the U.S. Postal Service to design a reliable and convenient program to return mail-in ballots.
  • Create security measures for vote-by-mail ballots.
  • Create a process for voters to address any issues with their vote-by-mail ballots so as to ensure all lawful votes are counted.
  • Modify any in-person polling places to maintain social distancing and minimize public health concerns for at-risk populations.
  • Improve sanitation efforts at polling places to provide public health assurances for in-person voting.
  • Increase voter education efforts on reforms implemented.

“The 2020 election could have record turnout for young voters and communities of color, groups that must be engaged in deciding the future of our country and on issues that affect our local communities,” said Matt Barreto, UCLA Voting Rights co-founder and co-author of the paper. “Voting is the foundation of our democracy, and vote-by-mail offers a solution to challenges that range from busy work schedules to global pandemics.”

 

DOWNLOAD the full report HERE.

The National Science Foundation has issued a nearly $1 million grant to a group of racial and ethnic politics researchers from across the nation led by UCLA’s Lorrie Frasure-Yokley, Associate Professor of Political Science and African American Studies, and Matt Barreto, Professor of Political Science and Chicana and Chicano Studies.  It will help support the groundbreaking Collaborative Multiracial Post-Election Survey, known as the CMPS, which looks to bring together young scholars and expands the number of ethnic and racial groups participating in a national survey. In its fourth installment, the CMPS will examine the 2020 election.

In a UCLA Newsroom story, written by Jessica Wolf, Professor Frasure-Yokley stated, “We accomplished what we set out to do, which was radically expand opportunities, especially for those early in their career or who are working at smaller or minority-serving institutions, to conduct research and even more importantly – publish their research, which is necessary to advance one’s academic career. And now, with stronger infrastructure provided by this major NSF grant, we can focus on expanding those opportunities even more.”

L.A. Social Science would like to congratulate both Professors Frasure-Yokley and Barreto and their research team. Read the entire UCLA Newsroom story HERE.

 

 

Credit: Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

UCLA lecturer and co-director of the UCLA Voting Rights Center, Chad Dunn, secures a settlement with the State of Texas requiring it rescind a voter purge of newly naturalized citizens. The settlement agreement can be found HERE, and it requires Texas to withdraw their earlier advisory claiming there were 95,000 illegally registered non-citizen voters in Texas. The 95,000 figure, which is wrong and has now, as part of the settlement, been withdrawn, was retweeted by President Trump. Texas must now institute a much smaller and more targeted program to investigate non-citizen registrants.

In the Fall 2018, UCLA launched a Voting Rights Center with Mr. Dunn and Political Science and Chicana/o Studies Professor Matt Barreto.  Undergraduate, graduate and law students now have the opportunity to learn and train under some of the pre-eminent voting rights experts and civil rights lawyers in the country.

More about the Texas case can be learned at the following links:

Texas agrees to rescind voter citizenship investigation – News – Austin American-Statesman – Austin, TX

Texas will end its botched voter citizenship review and rescind its list of flagged voters | The Texas Tribune

Texas rescinding list of possible noncitizen voters, ending botched review | The Texas Tribune

For previous coverage of this case in LA Social Science, click HERE.

Credit: Brennan Center for Justice

These last two weeks, a court in San Antonio, Texas has taken evidence in a case challenging the state’s targeting of non-native born Americans who are legally registered to vote.  UCLA Lecturer, Chad Dunn, examined a number of witnesses in the trial including the architect of the voter purge, the state’s Director of Elections.  This week, the federal judge ruled against in the plan in a sharply worded order available HERE.  In the newly established UCLA Voting Rights Workshop Co-Chaired by Dr. Matt Barreto and Chad Dunn, students at UCLA are learning in real-time the legal theories, expert witness methods and case techniques needed to handle important cases such as this one.

You can read more about the case at the following links:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/28/us/texas-voter-rolls.html

https://www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/2019/02/20/state-employee-abruptly-resigned-after-working-texas-noncitizens-list-may-avoiding-court-appearance

https://www.expressnews.com/news/local/article/The-official-leading-Texas-effort-to-scrub-13632333.php

By Chad Dunn, Brazil & Dunn, Attorneys at Law, and Matt Barreto, Professor of Political Science and Chicana/o Studies, UCLA

In 2013, Texas passed a restrictive voter identification law requiring any potential voter to show a government-issued photo ID before they could vote. However, Texas was subject to the preclearance provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA), Section 5; and before the law could be put into place, Texas had to prove to the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. that the law would not have a discriminatory effect on racial and ethnic minorities. Chad Dunn along with other attorneys, intervened in the case and offered evidence that the law would prevent Texans from voting and that minorities would be disproportionately impacted, a result that was intended by the number and nature of IDs Texas chose to allow. Texas lost that court case and the D.C. Court found the voter ID law did have a significant discriminatory effect and blocked Texas from implementing this law. That was when the Voting Rights Act had its full weight.

In 2014, in Shelby v. Holder the Supreme Court held that the Section 5 requirements that stopped Texas from discriminating against voters was outdated and they struck down the so-called Federal preclearance requirements in so far as Congress had applied it to various states and jurisdictions. Within minutes of the ruling, Texas reinstituted their voter ID law, which had already been found to be discriminatory.

https://www.brennancenter.org/legal-work/shelby-county-v-holder

Without Section 5 and Texas intent on enforcing their discriminatory ID law, voting rights attorneys would need to step in and find individual plaintiffs to sue Texas under a different provision, Section 2 of the VRA. On June 28, 2014, Dunn and other nationally known civil rights lawyers filed a lawsuit against Texas alleging that the voter ID law, had a discriminatory effect against blacks and Latinos, and more, that Texas passed this law with discriminatory intent. In an era without the Federal oversight protections of Section 5, it is now incumbent on civil rights advocacy groups and voting rights attorneys to bring individual lawsuits against voting procedures they believe are discriminatory; and to do this, they must rely on academic experts in history and the social sciences to prove, with thorough and methodical research and data analysis, that a voting rule or procedure discriminates against a specific racial or ethnic group. In the case of Texas, Mr. Dunn reached out to Professor Matt Barreto (Chicana/o Studies & Political Science) to provide a critical piece of the social science expertise documenting discriminatory effect.

Barreto collaborated with University of New Mexico Professor Gabriel Sanchez, to implement a large statewide survey of eligible voters across the state of Texas and determine what types of documents and identifications potential voters in Texas possessed. For would-be voters who did not have a proper photo ID, the survey probed if they had the necessary underlying documents needed to go an obtain an ID. Further, Barreto and Sanchez assessed the barriers placed in front of Texas citizens to get a photo ID, such as needing to take time off work, having to find someone to provide transportation, having to drive over 20 miles to the nearest driver’s license office, or having to pay fees to track down their original birth certificate. In full, the social science research pointed to a clear pattern of discriminatory effect in which blacks and Latinos in Texas were statistically less likely to possess a photo ID, and statistically less likely to have the underlying documents necessary to obtain an ID. Further, due to extensive disparities in socioeconomic status, blacks and Latinos in Texas faced considerably more barriers than whites in being able to obtain an ID.

Dunn and Barreto have successfully worked on numerous Voting Rights cases and are now collaborating on a graduate level class at UCLA the includes masters, PhD and JD students. In this class, students learn the steps toward successful prosecution of voting cases from the perspective of the trial lawyer and the expert witness.

 

Chad Dunn of Brazil & Dunn, Attorneys at Law, consistently receives awards from legal publications for his extensive trial and litigation practice in Courts all over the country. From the United States Supreme Court, the Fifth Circuit, the Texas Supreme Court and virtually all trial and appellate courts below, Chad has the experience to prevail in the most difficult conditions and environments. He has handled complicated litigation in various states including Texas, Tennessee, the District of Columbia, New Mexico, North Carolina and Florida, and has tried numerous jury cases, trials to the bench and arbitrations.

Matt A. Barreto is Professor of Political Science and Chicana/o Studies at UCLA and the co-founder of the research and polling firm Latino Decisions. Time Magazine called Latino Decisions the “gold-standard in Latino American polling” and The Guardian wrote that Latino Decisions is “the leading Latino political opinion research group” in the United States. Barreto’s research was recognized in the 30 Latinos key to the 2012 election by Politic365, listed in the Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2012 by the European Politics Magazine LSDP, and was named one of the top 15 leading Latino pundits by Huffington Post which said Barreto was “the pollster that has his finger on the pulse of the Latino electorate.” In 2015, Barreto was hired by the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign to run polling and focus groups on Latino voters.

October 24, 2018

UCLA Professor Matt Barreto wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times titled “Even for Trump, There Is Such a Thing as Too Far” that discusses election research with a focus on immigration.  He writes:

“Baseless fear-mongering is not what makes America great. Standing up for an inclusive and welcoming society sends a message to immigrant and minority voters that candidates are on their side — and this can lead to greater voter turnout.”

To read the rest of the informative piece, click HERE.