After some partisan discussions, the Assembly agreed to technical amendments made in the Senate to Assembly Bill 817 by Democrat Rob Bonta of Alameda.
AB 817 would allow an election official to appoint up to five people who are not U.S. citizens to serve as poll workers at each precinct. The non-citizens would have to be lawful permanent residents who meet all the other requirements for being eligible to vote except for citizenship.
Bonta said the measure would increase language access for voters.
"There are nearly 3 million citizens who are fully eligible to vote and not English proficient," Bonta said.
"We have a shortage of multilingual poll workers in the state of California," he added. "There has to be language access at the polls."
Republican Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen of Modesto said she didn't buy into that logic.
"Let's keep in mind what poll workers can and cannot do," Olsen told fellow Assembly members during floor debate. "Poll workers cannot go into a voting booth with a voter, cannot read the ballot to the voter, cannot help them understand what they are voting on."
Republicans have opposed the bill since it was first introduced. The bill originally passed the Assembly in May on a 49-23 vote. Last month, the Senate passed it 22-10. The bill returned to the Assembly on Thursday for concurrence on minor changes made in the Senate.
"If somebody is not registered to vote and they aren't a citizen and they can't vote, then why would they even want to sit at the poll?" asked Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point. "What could possibly entice them? Is this just another career path? I'm a bit confused."
Democrats focused their rebuttal on pointing out that legal residents who are not U.S. citizens can serve in the military but are not welcome to serve as poll workers.
"It's offensive to suggest that those people could go and put their lives on the line for their country and go off to war in Iraq or Afghanistan, but when they come back home, they are unfit to serve as a poll worker," said Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville. "That's offensive."
PHOTO: An elections assistant instructs a class of poll workers in this 1998 file photo. The Sacramento Bee / Owen Brewer.