When I saw the piece in today’s Seattle Times about foreign language ballots, I just knew this was something our good friend Stefan would weigh in on, and sure enough, he didn’t disappoint.
The federal Voting Rights Act is scheduled to expire this year, and with it the section that requires ballots be printed in foreign languages when minority speakers comprise a minimum percentage of eligible voters. It is under this provision that King County prints ballots in Chinese, and three other WA counties print ballots in Spanish.
Stefan’s take was pretty much what I expected:
The foreign language ballot provisions of the Voting Rights Act should be allowed to expire next year. Universal voting in English is central to our melting pot. Let alone the expense and distraction of duplicating infrastructure to cater to tiny minorities. The last thing this country needs is to cater to linguistic minorities and give immigrants more incentives not to assimilate.
‘Cause you know, nothing threatens our democracy more than “linguistic minorities” like, um… my great-grandmother, who emigrated from Eastern Europe as a teen, worked hard all her life, raised a family, helped start and run a small retail shop that fed and clothed three generations… and mostly spoke Yiddish until her dying day. Yeah.. helping people like my bubbie vote represents everything that’s wrong with America.
This was exactly the sort of sentiment I’ve come to expect from Stefan, who consistently opposes any effort to make the franchise more accessible. Of course, his position reflects a certain cynical, electoral calculus, but I think this passionate opposition to multilingual ballots — as echoed by some of the comments in his thread — is more… how shall we say… genuine.
For example, one commenter expressed distress at what she called “uncertified ‘photo-copied’ Americans,” lamenting:
We have enough of the Little China, Little Italy and the Little India districts…. Will we need to create a Little America district someday?
Well, where else will we find all those great American restaurants?
And of course, my favorite comment had to be the one that derided our nation’s tolerance of non-native speakers:
We give them no incentive at all to become part of what had made the USA great: E Pluribus Unum.
Yup… I can’t think of a better way to argue the primacy of the English language than to do it in Latin.
And then there is the argument that multilingual ballots are unnecessary because English proficiency is a prerequisite of naturalization. Well, that’s simply not true. Our naturalization laws include broad exemptions due to age or disability; for example, English proficiency is waived for those over 50, with 20 years of permanent residence. Which I suppose explains why the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services official Guide to Naturalization is printed in five languages… including Tagalog.
Personally, I’m willing to consider a cost-benefit analysis in determining whether translating and printing multilingual ballots is worth the expense in time and money. Obviously, if there wasn’t a point of diminishing returns, we’d be printing ballots in dozens of languages.
But I find it hard to accept the assertion that making ballots accessible to non-English speakers somehow constitutes bad public policy. The right to vote is the most basic right of citizenship, and to withhold it as an incentive towards forced, cultural assimilation, strikes me as downright un-American.