Monday, August 19, 2002

foreign language ballots

Maybe it's time to stop calling them "foreign" language ballots, as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer does. That newspaper reports that four counties in Washington State have been ordered to provide voting materials and ballots in languages other than English. In Yakima, Franklin and Adams counties, Spanish materials are required, and in King County, Chinese.

The federal Voting Rights Act provides the impetus behind these additions, which aren't just limited to Washington.
Under the federal Voting Rights Act, foreign language ballots must be provided if the Census shows more than 10,000 people or more than 5 percent of the voting age population in a single language group don't speak English well.
A full list of the jurisdictions where non-English voting materials or oral language procedures are required is here from the Bureau of the Census. The Bureau also has a more detailed description of the requirements under Section 203 of the Voting Act.

As the Seattle paper notes, it's important that care and attention to detail goes into the translations:
In March, a sample primary ballot in Orange County, Calif., translated into Vietnamese, described the sheriff as a "low-level officer who examines dead bodies." A district attorney was described as a hamlet prosecutor while the county clerk-recorder was called an office secretary.
With the growth of the hispanic population in Delaware, especially Sussex County, perhaps Delaware should start considering the possibility of being required to have Spanish voting materials ready before they are required by the next census.

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