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.
    Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Borderi
    X
    July 22, 2016 12:30 AM
    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.
    Video

    Video Number of Syrian Refugees Arriving in US Jumps

    The United States is committed to resettling 85,000 refugees from around the world by October. Of that number, 10,000 will come from Syria and already some 4,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in the United States, many of them settling in the state of Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from Chicago, their arrival is not the end of a difficult journey to find peace and stability.
    Video

    Video Rio’s Trams Await Olympic Tourists

    Over the past century, many cities around the world replaced electric trams, prone to breakdowns and backups, with faster and more spacious buses. But for some reason restored antique trams are a huge tourist attraction. So it’s no wonder the authorities in Rio de Janeiro are busy restoring their city’s old tram line ahead of the Summer Olympic Games. VOA’ George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora