Gov. Newsom signs bill to protect the safety of California election workers

September 27, 2022

Sacramento, Calif. – Legislation to address the rise in harassment towards election workers was signed into law yesterday by California Governor Gavin Newsom. 

Senate Bill 1131, authored by Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) and co-sponsored by the California Voter Foundation and Brennan Center for Justice, protects California election workers by providing them with the option to keep their home addresses confidential. The bill includes an urgency clause and goes into effect immediately.

“Threats to democracy is the number one issue on the minds of U.S. voters right now,” said Kim Alexander, President of the California Voter Foundation (CVF), citing results from NBC News’ August and September public opinion polls. “SB 1131 gives democracy’s frontline workers the ability to protect themselves and their families from harm.” 

In recent years, election officials and staff have been subject to “doxing” (publicly revealing private information) and increasing harassment as the result of their names, photographs and addresses being posted online and on social media platforms. CVF's 2021 report Documenting and Addressing Harassment of Election Officials shines light on the harm inflicted upon local and state election officials through threats of violence and intimidation.

According to a 2021 report by the Brennan Center for Justice, one in three local U.S. election officials are concerned about facing harassment or pressure while on the job and feel unsafe. Additionally, one in six have been threatened because of their job. Since November 2020, twenty of California’s 58 county registrars – over one-third - have either left their positions or chosen to not seek re-election, in part due to increased aggressive and abusive behavior targeted at them. 

“One of the byproducts of an increasingly hostile and polarized political environment has been an alarming rise in threats to election workers and other civil servants,” said Senator Josh Newman. “With midterm elections nearing, the safety and peace of mind of hardworking election workers should be a top priority. Under this urgently needed legislation, the men and women who do the often unheralded work of making democracy and local government work will be appropriately protected from the kinds of threats, harassment, and physical intimidation that have recently become all too common.”

SB 1131 will allow election workers to enroll in either of the state’s existing address protection programs — the Secretary of State’s Safe at Home program or the state’s address confidentiality program for public officials. 

The Safe at Home program is designed to protect survivors of domestic violence and people who work at reproductive healthcare facilities by redirecting the mail of those enrolled in the program to a different mailing address. Alternatively, election workers may enroll in a program that allows state and local agencies to respond to public records requests without disclosing addresses of election workers.

In the final stages of the legislative process, SB 1131 was expanded to include all public employees who are subjected to credible threats arising from their work. Most notably, the bill includes code enforcement officers who have been tasked with enforcing several health and safety ordinances during the pandemic. SB 1131 also directs county election officials to no longer publicly post the names of poll workers at voting sites or on their web sites to protect poll workers’ privacy as well. 

To schedule an interview with Senator Newman, contact Lizzie Cootsona at 916.651.4029.

CVF's Kim Alexander can be reached at kimalex - at - calvoter- dot-org or 916.441.2494.