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California Advances Legislation to Protect Voters and Workers Against Intimidation

At a hearing Wednesday, the California State Assembly Committee on Elections passed the Peace Act with support from the Brennan Center.

April 11, 2024

In an election year marked by hostility, abuse, and violence rooted in the election denial movement, California state lawmakers took a pioneering step this week to protect voters, election officials, and election workers from intimidation in voting and election administration.

The California State Assembly Committee on Elections advanced the Peace Act (A.B. 2642) following a Wednesday hearing. The legislation, supported by the Brennan Center, installs more robust legal protections against intimidation at every stage of the voting process, from voters casting ballots to election officials counting and certifying the votes. The bill, which is based on model legislation developed by the Brennan Center and Giffords Law Center in a recent report, “Guns and Voting: How to Protect Elections After Bruen,” now heads to the assembly’s Judiciary Committee.

While our elections are for the most part peaceful and safe, intimidation, threats, and violence are not hypothetical. During the 2020 election, incidents were reported in California, Arizona, Michigan, Florida, and Georgia, among other states. And a 2023 Brennan Center study found that one in three election officials nationwide have experienced threats, harassment, or abuse because of their job.

To address growing concerns about political threats and violence, California Assemblymember Marc Berman (D) introduced the bill in February to expand and strengthen the state’s existing defenses against intimidation for voters and those who run elections. The legislation would codify the federal Voting Rights Act’s prohibition against intimidation into state law, and it would explicitly apply this prohibition to not only voters but also election officials and election workers. The bill would also provide civil remedies in state courts, enabling stronger enforcement of these protections without relying solely on state prosecutors.

At the hearing, Brennan Center Counsel Robyn Sanders testified, “One of the main features of this bill is that it allows for individuals who are victims [of intimidation], including election officials and election workers, as well as voters, to have a private right of action to enforce the provisions of this bill.”

To counter intimidation at election sites beyond polling places, such as drop boxes and vote-counting facilities, the bill would establish a legal presumption that the presence of visible guns in and around voting locations amounts to unlawful intimidation. This presumption flips the script by shifting the burden on those accused of intimidation with a gun to rebut the presumption and prove that their actions were not threatening, coercive, or intimidating — deterring individuals from bringing guns to any places where voting and elections are taking place.

And perhaps most critically, as Sanders testified, this legislation is designed to acknowledge the history of intimidation faced by Black Americans and other communities of color through both explicit and implicit means seeking to suppress their votes and silence their voices in our democracy. Under the Peace Act, Black voters, who have long endured a pattern of mistreatment by law enforcement, would no longer have to rely on law enforcement to protect themselves against unlawful intimidation and violence. By empowering those most vulnerable and creating clear consequences, the Peace Act would both ensure that every eligible voter can cast a ballot without fear and contribute to dismantling our country’s long legacy of race discrimination in voting.

At a moment when mis- and disinformation, extremism, and violence, including with guns, are contributing to a climate of fear and uncertainty for voters and election officials, the Peace Act is critical for our democracy. If successfully passed, California would be the first state in the nation to adopt this legislation, facilitating safer and fairer elections.

“A.B. 2642 provides California, a leader for other states in many ways, with another essential tool in its toolbox to ensure our elections remain peaceful and democratic,” Sanders told committee members.