Antonio Ray Harvey, California Black Media

California Secretary of State Shirley Weber has until Oct. 14 to certify the results in the gubernatorial recall election held Sept 14. Her announcement will officially confirm that a majority of voters want Gavin Newsom to remain governor.

While the certification process plays out, Weber and her office will continue to keep Californians informed about their voting rights with the 2022 General Election in full view, she said.

A day after Newsom signed a first-in-the-nation bill that now makes vote-by-mail ballots permanent in California, Weber showed up at Fresno State University in the Central Valley with civil rights activist Dolores Huerta. They were there to discuss ways to make the democratic process more accessible by enfranchising more voters.

Weber said steps California has taken to protect and expand voting rights are in contrast with some of the actions several states across the country have taken that appear to be restricting their citizens’ right to vote.

“We want to open this franchise to everyone but in the midst of all of that, I am consciously aware that your President (Joe Biden) mentioned that there is a national movement heading in a different direction than California is going,” Weber said. “That national movement is to restrict voting. Restrict voting opportunities.”

Last week, Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill (AB) 37, authored by Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park). That bill requires a vote-by-mail ballot to be mailed to every registered voter in the state.

He also signed a package of other legislation intended to increase voter access and strengthen integrity in California elections.

“As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options, and bolstering elections integrity and transparency,” Newsom said. “Last year, we took unprecedented steps to ensure all voters had the opportunity to cast a ballot during the pandemic and today we are making those measures permanent after record-breaking participation in the 2020 presidential election.”

During the town hall that featured Weber and Huerta, panelists discussed the historical significance of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, movements in other states to revive “Jim Crow-era” voting restrictions, efforts in California and at the national level to protect and expand voting rights, and how to get more young people involved in the voting process.

The co-founder of the United Farm Workers Association, Huerta, 91, is one of the most influential labor activists of the 20th century and a leader of the Chicano civil rights movement.

“We do have a disconnect here,” Huerta said to the students at Fresno State University and an online audience viewing the event. “We still have a lot of people here that are not registered to vote, and they don’t understand the importance of voting.”

Former Secretary of State Alex Padilla, before he was appointed U.S. Senator, certified that a record 22, 047, 448 Californians were registered to vote before the Nov. 3 general election in 2020.

“There (were) more registered voters in California than the number of people in the state of Florida,” Padilla said in Oct. 2020.

Weber told the audience that “Voters like having options for returning their ballot” whether it’s by mail, a secure dropbox , a voting center “or at a traditional polling station.” The option to mail-in votes “significantly” increases participation, she said.

“The more people who participate in elections, the stronger our democracy and the more we have the assurance that elections reflect the will of the people of California,” Weber said.

Berman celebrated the governor signing his bill into law, pointing out that more people vote when they have access.

“We saw this in the 2020 General Election when, in the middle of a global health pandemic, we had the highest voter turnout in California since Harry Truman was president. I want to thank Governor Newsom for signing AB 37, ensuring that every active registered voter in California will receive a ballot in the mail before every future election. As other states actively look for ways to make it harder for people to vote, California is expanding access to an already safe and secure ballot,” he said.