People Over Profits
Protecting Democracy in California
California’s democratic system does not reflect the voices of its everyday people. There are too many barriers in the way of regular, everyday people being able to inform the work of their government. Elected officials have little incentive to engage with the everyday voter, instead selling their time to wealthy Californians. All too often, we see those same politicians vote in the best interests of their donors, not their constituents. Without modern electoral policies like publicly financed elections or automatic voter registration, everyday people struggle to run for office, get civically involved, or even vote, diminishing the meaning of democracy. Fatima will refocus the state’s priorities to reflect its residents’ by fighting to make voting accessible and limit the power of big corporations.
Democracy Issues in California
In our democracy, voter input shapes public policy. This has been a key aspect of our democracy since the American nation was first created. However, the US has been home to many attacks on voter rights throughout our nation’s history. Initially, many people were excluded from voting in our constitution. Even as the number of people able to vote has expanded over time, the government has created different tools of disenfranchisement, including poll taxes, literacy tests, residency requirements, and other Jim Crow tactics that continued on well after the ratification of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Even today, Voter ID laws in 34 of 50 states require identification in order to cast a regular ballot. Voter ID laws are known to create barriers that disproportionately impact people of color and lower-income communities and have even been compared to poll taxes by the former US Attorney General, Eric Holder. Fortunately, California has no voter ID laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
However, there are many other voter suppression tactics such as disenfranchisement for those with past criminal convictions in twelve states, with an estimated 6.1 million lost voters in 2016. These laws also disproportionately silence Black voters: the Sentencing Project estimates that 1 out of 13 African-American adults are barred from voting in this way. Currently, California restores voting rights after completion of prison and parole sentences. However, there are tens of thousands of Californians - an estimated ⅔ of whom are Black or Latinx - who are still on parole who are barred from voting. In November 2020, voters can vote on Prop 17, which proposes to restore voting rights for people on parole.
Moreover, there are other processes like gerrymandering that reduce the significance of a person’s vote. In California, there have been significant strides to uphold justice, such as the Citizens Redistricting Commission, which is an independent redistricting commission designed to eliminate special interests and political influence from our district lines, but it is crucial that our politicians continue to analyze and address these issues.
Want to learn more? Check out these resources:
• This University of Chicago journal article, Voter Identification Laws and the Suppression of Minority Votes.
• This NCSL report on voter ID requirements
• This Sentencing Project report on voter disenfranchisement for individuals with conviction histories
• This state website that outlines California's redistricting process
With blatant attacks on minority voting rights, it may come at no surprise that voter turnout among American communities of color is lower than wealthier, whiter communities. According to Pew Research, Black voter turnout declined for the first time in 20 years by 7% in 2016. Not to mention, the same report found there were about 14 million eligible Latino non-voters in 2016, outnumbering the 12.7 million Latinos who did vote in 2016. Lower-income individuals also tend to vote less: one study by DEMOS suggests that in 2008, only 49% of Americans making less than $10,000 a year voted, compared with over 80% of those earning over $150,000.
Our government must examine why these disparities exist in voting and work to address them. It is critical that people of color and lower-income people vote and have the chance to influence policy changes that can improve their lives and to elect officials who they feel can best represent them.
The Supreme Court’s 2010 Decision in Citizens United v. FEC essentially created an era of unlimited spending for political campaigns. In 2016, $4 billion was spent on congressional races alone. Even in State Assembly races, many campaigns are raising hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. Researchers and political scientists have found that the views of big donors tend to have the largest effects on members of Congress. Additionally, in the 2016 federal election cycle, $2.3 billion of the total $6.5 billion spent came from only 0.01% of the adult population.
These numbers reflect an American political system that responds and works primarily for the wealthy. That is why we accept $0 from corporate donors and other special interests, and why I champion publicly funded elections.
Want to learn more? Check out these resources:
• "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens" by Gilens and Page.
• This OpenSecrets.org report on spending during the 2016 election cycle.
• This Brennan Center report on a just election agenda
Fatima will fight to expand state and local voting rights to those most impacted by our laws. Current voting laws exclude those most impacted by them: Black and brown people who are impacted by the criminal justice system, immigrants and youth. Fatima will fight to expand the right to vote for:
• Californians currently or formerly incarcerated in a state or federal prison, including those currently serving a state prison felony sentence in a county jail or other correctional facility, those awaiting transfer to a state or federal prison for a felony conviction, those in county jail for a parole violation, and those on parole with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
• Undocumented adults of voting age, including the right to appropriate privacy while voting for their protection.
• Young people of age 16 and higher for school board elections.
Fatima will also push to make voting easier for everyone, by having automatic voter registration at the age of 18 in the state, removing the need to show an ID to vote in California (a practice adopted in 20 other states), and guaranteeing vote by mail ballots for everyone (not just in a pandemic). She will also push to make it easier for regular voters to influence elections. As California’s population has skyrocketed, its legislature has not kept pace. Only 80 assembly members go up to Sacramento each year, each representing more than half a million people. This ensures that elected officials focus more on raising money from big donors than talking to people in their district. Fatima wants to reform this system to bring in the regular voters by:
• Implementing a Ranked Choice Voting system, giving voters more options in who represents them.
• Enforcing redistricting laws to prevent gerrymandering.
• Publicly financing campaigns at the state level and lowering contribution limits for state candidates, to incentivize candidates to engage with constituents in their districts.
• Limiting contributions from corporations and big businesses, such as real estate developers, pharmaceutical companies and oil, so they have less influence on our laws.
• Enabling campaigns to be published in official state ballots shared with voters, regardless of funds raised.
• Establishing election days to be days off, to encourage civic engagement for all.
• Preventing Long Lines at Polls through proper resource allocation.
• Ensuring state-funded voting machines and systems
These are the reforms we need to truly expand our access to democracy in California and ensure we value people over profits at every level of government.
Paid for by Fatima Iqbal-Zubair for Assembly 2020 FPPC ID# 1420710
5429 Madison Avenue Sacramento, CA 95841