BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
No doubt everyone’s heard the sarcastic comment “It’s a solution in search of a problem”. I’d enjoyed it often, but get to use it myself to describe a situation for the first time only with this article.
Unfortunately, this situation also obliges me to admit that the Democratic Party (full disclosure— I am registered as a member) is also guilty of voter suppression, though perhaps nowhere near as extensively as the Republican Party is. The additional irony is that the suppression is occurring to a minority group, and a relatively more vulnerable subset of that minority group. Here’s what happened.
The California legislature passed a bill expanding what is defined as a crime when it comes to misleading senior citizens when assisting them to cast a vote in an election. More specifically, the “elders” (the term used in the legislation) covered are those who are in a “state-licensed or state-subsidized facility”.
This seems very noble and appropriate, doesn’t it? Except, it begs the question, “When, where, how often, and by whom has such deception been worked?” This is the solution that’s seeking the problem.
Here’s what I think really happened. The author of this legislation is afraid of the constituency ostensibly being protected. Specifically, it seems to me this bill targets the Armenian community. Why? It’s simple. One of the areas where we as a community have had significant success in getting voter excitement and turnout is among our older, and relatively recently sworn in, citizens. Many places that lend themselves to doing outreach to this constituency fit the description above. I’ve witnessed their excitement and pride at being able to vote. Simultaneously, they are sometimes confounded by the voting procedures and require extensive explanation of the process. So, if you want to suppress Armenian voter turnout, this is one easily targeted portion of that group of voters.
Naturally you’re wondering, “How? How does the new law even relate to participation? If everybody does things legally, how does this new legislation even matter at all?” Here’s how. Some elder will be bamboozled, by forces inimical to our community, into saying s/he was duped into voting differently than they intended by someone who assisted them. Then the latter person will get hauled up to face a judge. Nothing will likely come of it, because things like this are exceedingly difficult to prove. Repeat this a few times, and the word will get out, putting a damper on the enthusiasm of volunteers who dedicate their precious time to building up the community’s political clout through electoral participation. This leads to lower elder turnout, realizing the goals of our community’s adversaries.
This legislation is known as Assembly Bill No. 547 and is now Section 18573.5 of the Elections Code of the State of California, please feel free to look it up. It was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in September. I don’t know what he was thinking, since he’s usually good on Armenian issues. Perhaps it was just to throw a bone to a member of the State Assembly’s leadership, none other than Mike Gatto. This man seems clearly ill disposed towards a significant segment, if not majority, of the politically active among the Armenians of his district. Why else would he pursue such legislation? Perhaps he’ll write and clarify why he pushed this law. Perhaps those in the Armenian community who continue to enthusiastically support such a legislator can explain why. I’ll take a clarification, not an excuse-fest, from just about anyone.
We should expect many such obstacles to rise on the path to liberating all our lands and people. So, besides recommending that you let Mr. Gatto know how dissatisfied you are with this legislation, I suggest that if you haven’t already, register and go to the ANC’s Thanksgiving weekend conference to arm yourself with knowledge and be prepared to confront the kinds of political shenanigans described above.