SB 1233 Would Require State to Translate Initiative Materials

Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Media Relations Coordinator, 510-926-4022; 415-846-7758 (cell)
Michelle Romero, Greenlining Institute Our Democracy Program Manager, (408) 550-3121 (cell)

SACRAMENTO — The California Senate took a major step toward involving the 6.9 million Californians who don’t speak English very well in the ballot initiative system today, passing SB 1233 by a vote of 24 to 14, with two abstentions. The bill would require the state to translate ballot initiative materials being circulated for signature-gathering into widely-spoken languages.

“This bill is an important step to protect the rights of all of California’s voters by providing election materials in different languages,” said bill author Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima). “By failing to provide language appropriate petitions, thousands of voters have been and continue to be left out of the process of determining which initiatives qualify for the ballot. It is imperative that we provide initiative material in all the languages covered by the 1965 Federal Voting Rights Act,” said Senator Padilla.

Under the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed discrimination in voting, California is required to translate voting materials such as a sample ballots and voter information pamphlets into nine languages, including Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Tagalog, Hindi, Khmer, and Thai. However, ballot initiative and referendum petitions circulated in hopes of qualifying for the ballot are not covered by current law, although the initiative process has become increasingly important in setting policy in California.

The Greenlining Institute brought the issue to Senator Padilla earlier this year, after completing a statewide listening tour to hear from California voters about their experiences with the initiative process. “We kept hearing about how voters were being misled and excluded by the initiative process because petitions are only available in English,” said Michelle Romero, Greenlining’s Our Democracy program manager. “By passing SB 1233, we can uphold the rights of millions of citizens to participate in our democracy and help determine what goes on the ballot.”

Endorsers of SB 1233 include:
Greenlining Institute (Sponsor)
American GI Forum of California
Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action
California Immigrant Policy Center
California Common Cause
California Church IMPACT
Council of Asian American Business Associations of California
El Concilio of San Mateo County
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Empower San Diego
First AME Church of South Los Angeles & FAME Corporations
Hmong American Political Association
Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund
Mission Language & Vocational School
National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials
National Council of La Raza and its California Affiliate Network

Having passed the Senate, SB 1233 now goes to the Assembly.


A Multi-Ethnic Public Policy, Research and Advocacy Institute