SACRAMENTO, Calif. /California Newswire/ — Calif. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) this week introduced SB 362. The bill would empower the Governor and the Secretary of State to act to protect the voting rights of emergency personnel and volunteers who are dispatched to help with disaster relief efforts outside of California.
California’s public safety and emergency personnel, utility workers and volunteers are regularly deployed to assist during emergencies and natural disasters outside of California. These deployments can and do impact their ability to participate in elections and vote.
“Californians assisting those in need outside of California, or outside the U.S. should not have to forego their right to vote. SB 362 would empower the Governor and the Secretary of State to set up alternative means of obtaining a ballot and voting when workers are responding to emergencies,” said Senator Alex Padilla.
Last year, Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast of the United States a week before Election Day. Hundreds of emergency and public safety personnel, volunteers and workers from the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, Pacific Gas & Electric, the California Red Cross, the California National Guard, and the California Emergency Management Urban Search and Rescue Team, went to New York and New Jersey to help in the relief and recovery efforts. Workers who were not absentee voters were unable to vote and participate in the election. Presently, there are no provisions in state law allowing a person to vote if they are working or volunteering during a disaster outside of California.
“California’s firefighters, police officers, utility workers and volunteers should not have to choose between helping others and exercising their right to vote. They should be able to do both. This bill would make that possible,” said Senator Padilla.
Don Boland, Executive Director of the California Utilities Emergency Association (CUEA), which oversees California’s national utility relief efforts, supports the change. “Many of our member agencies and their personnel who were dispatched to the East Coast during last year’s Hurricane Sandy to help with relief efforts were unable to vote. Many of them had intended to vote at their local polling place, but due to the timing and urgency of the relief efforts were unable to,” said Mr. Boland.
Senator Alex Padilla, 39, graduated from MIT with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He currently serves on the Board of MIT and is President of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. He is Chair of the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee and represents the more than 1,100,000 residents of the 20th State Senate District in Los Angeles.