Patients at Coalinga State Hospital scored two victories today — one in court and the other in the state legislature. As a result of the victories, the patients’ past votes as well as future votes in City of Coalinga elections are valid.
Specifically, a Fresno Superior Court judge ruled today against the City of Coalinga which had attempted to invalidate the patients’ votes in November 2017 which contributed to the defeat of a one cent sales tax. In its decision, the Court noted that the patients’ votes were valid because the patients both live in the City as well as registered to vote there.
Also in its decision, the Court disagreed with the City’s argument that patients could not register to vote there because they had been involuntarily committed to the state hospital. Further, the Court disagreed with the City’s argument that patients, if released, will move to a different location. The Court noted that the “Elections Code does not require, as far as residency for voting purposes goes, that the residence be the place from which the voter will never move. Residence can and does change.”
In the state legislature today, the Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting, stopped Assembly Bill 2839 (AB 2839) which would have required patients to vote at their last known address before commitment.
Committee Chair Marc Berman criticized the bill as attacking a fundamental right, that is, voting. He said voters shouldn’t be forced to vote where they no longer live.
Vice Chair Matthew Harper noted that the City of Coalinga has benefited from its annexation of the state hospital for more than 10 years and questioned the motives of the City’s decision to challenge election results after the City failed at its attempt to increase the City’s sales tax.
Committee member Ian Calderon, whose district includes a large state hospital, noted that the Coalinga patients would be”directly affected” by a sales tax increase because they purchase food, clothing and electronics at the state hospital.
Committee member Dr.Shirley Weber stated that people should have the right to vote where they choose to vote. She criticized the City for its attempt to gerrymander votes due to the outcome of one election.
In addition to the committee members, a total of 12 people spoke in opposition to the bill. This total includes registrants, family members and representatives of the ACLU, CA Public Defenders Association, Disability Rights California and the Alliance for Constitutional Sex Offense Laws.
“Today’s victory is due, in large part, to the efforts of registrants and family members who wrote letters and testified in opposition to a bill that would have disenfranchised hundreds of California voters,” stated Bellucci. “We thank them for their significant contributions.”