More Foreign-Born Americans Voting in Native Languages

    A voter drops off his ballot at a Washington state elections drop box outside of a north Seattle public library, Nov. 6, 2010A voter drops off his ballot at a Washington state elections drop box outside of a north Seattle public library, Nov. 6, 2010
    x
    A voter drops off his ballot at a Washington state elections drop box outside of a north Seattle public library, Nov. 6, 2010
    A voter drops off his ballot at a Washington state elections drop box outside of a north Seattle public library, Nov. 6, 2010
    Jessica Wilde
    Election materials in the U.S. are not only available in English. In 25 states, 248 counties provide ballots and other materials in a variety of languages, and they are required by law to do so.
     
    This can be expensive for counties, and some argue they should not have to pay the bill. Others say it is a constitutional right of citizens who don’t speak English.
     
    Every 10 years the U.S. Census releases a list of counties that are required to provide ballots in different languages. The Voting Rights Act says that if 10,000 or five percent of citizens in a county speak a given non-English language, that county is required to provide election materials in that language. Ballots were provided in nine Asian languages throughout the U.S. this year.
     
    Dan Hopkins, assistant professor of government at Georgetown University, has studied the effects on Spanish-language voters.
     
    “What I can tell you from that research is that it’s clear that citizens who speak only Spanish are more likely to turn out and more likely to vote in cases where they have access to Spanish-language ballots,” Hopkins said.
     
    Los Angeles County in California was required to provide ballots not only in Spanish, but in Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese. Three languages were new this year: Khmer, Thai and Hindi.
     
    The county provides other election materials in other languages in addition to ballots, said Efrain Escobedo, manager of government of affairs for the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters. They translate outreach materials, sample ballots and vote-by-mail requests, and hire bilingual poll workers for Election Day.
     
    “Our immediate reaction was, let’s get to work,” Escobedo said. “We had been seeing these changes come, so we knew where our needs were and had already started to build relationships and build networks. I think the Census Determinations simply made them official.”
     
    The county starts by analyzing the needs of the community and building a translation glossary for nuanced election terminology, Escobedo said.
     
    Unlike other counties that will be providing language ballots for the first time this year, Los Angeles County already had a system in place for implementing the law, including the Community Voter Outreach Committee, comprised of over 200 community organizations.
     
    “That infrastructure was paramount for us implementing these new languages,” Escobedo said.

    One of these communities is the Thai Community Development Center, founded 18 years ago by Chanchanit Martorell. She was an active force in making sure Thai was on the ballot this year.
     
    “We, as Thai-Americans, are really, through this act of voting, asserting our own community consciousness," Martorell said. "And we are actually also saying that we exist.” She and the Thai CDC worked on a national Census mobilization effort to get a complete count of all Thais nationwide.
     
    “There’s a whole fear level that we had to help them overcome and made sure that we were very clear that it would not hurt them in any way to fill out the Census,” Martorell said. “That bumped up our Census numbers and we met the threshold for the materials to be translated.”
     
    With Thai is on the ballot, the Thai CDC was working with the county to get the word out. Their project coordinator, Andreu Neri, worked on voter registration and education with various Thai organizations.
     
     “Working through the Thai CDC, we’ve built stock within the Thai community,” Neri said. “They recognize the community development center as a beneficiary. So through that, there’s this level of trust I think the Thai community has. It’s a very interconnected network.”
     
    While the Thai CDC receives funding for its voting campaign from private Asian-American foundations, the Los Angeles County Registrar was responsible for the cost of producing election materials. The sample ballots alone added up to around half a million dollars, Escobedo said.
     
    “It’s a significant expense,” he said. “But even in these tough economic times, you really can’t put a price tag on democracy and that the less people that are participating, especially in times when we’re making very important decisions, I think it’s more expensive in the long run to create classes of citizens who aren’t able to exercise their fundamental right.”
     
    Hopkins of Georgetown said cost can factor into the argument against providing ballots in these languages.
     
    “These costs in the grand scheme of things are not very large,” he said. “But of course, in an era of fiscal austerity, in an era when it’s hard to find money to do lots of things that we want to do, the costs are going to be one potential issue.”
     
    Republican Representative Mike Coffman from Colorado argued that mass printing and distribution of dual language ballots were often wasted. He has requested that the Department of Justice only require counties to provide dual language ballots upon request—what he calls a “less costly but equally effective method of compliance.”
     
    Hopkins explained both sides of the argument.
     
    “I think some of the more compelling arguments against the provision of ballots in other languages would argue that American politics at all levels takes places in English,” he said. “The concern then is how are voters able to meaningfully participate if they’re not following the debates themselves in that language.”
     
    The viewpoint in favor of providing foreign language ballots was that immigrants can become U.S. citizens without speaking English, Hopkins said.
     
    “Current U.S. immigration policy allows a good number of people into this country without having to pass a language test,” he said. “In order to meaningfully vote, the argument would have it, you need to have access to ballots in your native language. Some might argue as well that such voters would be less prone to manipulation.”
     
    Democratic Representative Judy Chu from California, was on that side of the argument.
     
    “This is a very good thing and in fact many of our current laws do make it easier for people to vote,” Chu said. “It’s these kinds of measures that can certainly help to empower immigrants so that they can participate in the American system.”
     
    Escobedo of L.A. County agreed.
     
    “I think in the midst of this election, it’s something that’s often overlooked,” Escobedo said. “But it’s so critical in terms of really having or sustaining a vibrant democracy.”
    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roari
    X
    June 28, 2016 10:33 AM
    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora