The increasingly polarized political environment has taken a toll on election workers and other public servants. The California Legislature has noticed, recognizing in its most recent election legislation that 15 percent of the state’s election officials have retired since the 2020 election. In an ongoing effort to address this issue, Governor Newsom signed SB 1131 into law on September 26, 2022, establishing new protections for public officials from harassment, threats, and acts of violence. As an urgency statute, SB 1311 went into effect that same day.
SB 1131 prohibits election officials in most counties from posting the names of precinct board members at polling locations. It also allows qualified election workers to enroll in two of the state’s existing address protection programs—the Secretary of State’s Safe at Home program and the state’s contact information confidentiality program for certain public officials. SB 1131 also extends the Safe at Home program to all workers who work for public entities who face threats of violence, actual violence, or harassment.
The Safe at Home program was designed to protect survivors of domestic violence and people who work at reproductive healthcare facilities, among others. It functions by providing participants with a substitute mailing address, with automatic mail forwarding to a true address. Applicants for the Safe at Home program, whether they are election workers or public health officials, must apply through an agency designated by the Secretary of State, or “enrolling agency.” Most participants must renew their enrollment every four years.
Alternatively, election workers may enroll in a contact information confidentiality program with their local county election official, adapted from a program already available to public safety officers. Almost anyone who is employed by or contracts with the Secretary of State or a local election office and who performs election-related work involving interaction with the public or public visibility is eligible for this protection, regardless of whether they perform duties other than direct election-related work. Election workers must apply for this program through their county election official, and accepted applicants must reapply at least every two years.
Participants in either program have their voter registration information—including address, telephone number, and email—deemed confidential. State and local agencies are required to withhold that information when responding to public records requests.
California’s public agencies, and especially counties, must prepare to implement SB 1131’s protections. Some election officials must modify protocols and put in place administrative infrastructure to implement the new safeguards. Officials should anticipate a significant influx of applications seeking to take advantage of the new protections as the November 2022 midterm elections conclude.