248 Jurisdictions to Provide Language Assistance to Voters

Categories: Press Releases

For Immediate Release
Contact: Shin Inouye, 202.869.0398, inouye@civilrights.org

Washington, D.C. – Civil rights leaders released the following statements in
response to today’s Census Bureau determination that, under Section 203 of the
Voting Rights Act, 248 jurisdictions will be required to provided language
assistance for voting procedures, including 188 in Spanish, 22 in various Asian
languages, and 38 in various American Indian and Alaska Native languages. 

A fact sheet about the language assistance provisions of the Voting Rights
Act is below these statements:

Wade Henderson, President and CEO, The Leadership Conference on
Civil and Human Rights

“As more and more states enact backward looking voter suppression laws,
these determinations remind us that democracy is not a privilege but a
fundamental right that must be made available to all citizens. The safeguards
provided by these language determinations ensure that language minority
citizens can fully exercise the American right to vote.”

Karen Narasaki, President and Executive Director, Asian American
Justice Center, Member of Asian American Center for Advancing Justice

“In covered jurisdictions, Asian American voters have increased
participation where Section 203 has been properly implemented and language
assistance has been effectively provided. These new determinations offer our
community more opportunities to ensure our voice is heard in the upcoming
elections.”

Arturo Vargas, Executive Director, National Association of Latino
Elected and Appointed Officials

“The language assistance requirements of the Voting Rights Act (VRA)
strengthen the foundation of our nation’s democracy by ensuring that all U.S.
citizens, regardless of linguistic ability, are able to fully and fairly
exercise their right to participate in the electoral process. The right to vote
is one of the most fundamental rights afforded to us as citizens of this
country, and we look forward to working with the Department of Justice to
ensure that officials in newly covered jurisdictions have the information and
resources necessary to uphold this right for all Americans.”

Nina Perales, Vice President of Litigation, Mexican American Legal
Defense and Educational Fund

“Today’s updated list of jurisdictions shows the great diversity of the U.S.
Latino population. Latinos will now be able to receive vital election
assistance in newly covered counties and towns in northeast states such as
Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania as well as Midwest states such as
Illinois, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.”

Jefferson Keel, President, National Congress of American Indians
“The Native languages of America’s first peoples are an irreplaceable part
of tribal religions, ceremonies and cultures. American Indian people are not
immigrants, we speak our own languages, and we have the right to vote in
elections. The Voting Rights Act ensures that our people continue to have the
language assistance they need to participate in democracy.”

Barbara Arnwine, Executive Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil
Rights Under Law

“The obligation under the Voting Rights Act to provide language assistance when
needed ensures that all citizens have a full voice in our democracy. It is
vital that election officials implement these obligations in an effective
manner so that voters can exercise their right to vote without hindrance.”

 

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Fact
Sheet – Language Assistance Provisions of the Section 203 of the Voting Rights
Act

 

Today’s announcement by the Census Bureau that 248
counties and other political jurisdictions fall under the jurisdiction of
Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act
means that Americans will receive the
language assistance they need to cast their votes and participate in our
democracy.

Why is Section 203 important for language minority voters?
Voting can be an intimidating and complicated process, even for native
English speaking voters.  For new citizens whose first language is not
English, the voting process is even more difficult to maneuver.  Language
assistance makes it easier for non-native speakers to participate in the
electoral process.  It also helps native-born voters who, because of a
lack of access to educational opportunities, are limited English proficient.
Without language assistance, many are deterred from voting by confusion, or may
decide to avoid the voting booth rather than ask for help – especially when
they are ridiculed when they try to ask for help.  For many new citizens,
one of the greatest treasures received from becoming a U.S. citizen is the
right to vote – a right that many did not receive from the country of their
birth. 

In short, for our democracy to flourish, all of its stakeholders need to
participate.

Which jurisdictions are now covered by the Section 203 language
assistance provisions?

According to the determinations released today by the Census Bureau, 188
jurisdictions nationwide must provide language assistance to Spanish speakers,
22 to Asian Americans (some in multiple Asian languages), 31 to American
Indians (some in multiple languages), and 7 to Alaskan Natives (some in
multiple languages).

What do the Section 203 language assistance provisions require?
Under the provisions, all information that is provided in English must also be
provided in the language of the covered minority group.

Specifically, this includes:

  • Translations of written
    materials, such
    as, but not limited to, ballots, referenda, petitions, and informational
    materials concerning the opportunity to register, the deadline for voter
    registration, upcoming elections, and absentee voting.
  • Oral assistance at
    polling sites
    by trained interpreters. Sufficient numbers of interpreters, determined by
    the number of registered voters who need such assistance, should be
    available.
  • Publicity regarding the
    availability of bilingual assistance. Examples include:
    bilingual notices at voter registration and polling sites, announcements
    in language minority radio, television and newspapers, and direct contact
    with language minority community organizations.

When does a jurisdiction become covered by the Section 203 language
assistance provisions?

The language assistance provisions of the Voting Rights Act apply to four
language minority groups: American Indians, Asian Americans, Alaskan Natives,
and those of Spanish heritage. A jurisdiction is covered under Section 203
where the number of voting-age citizens in the language minority is more
than 10,000, or is more than 5 percent of all voting-age citizens in a county,
or exceeds 5 percent of all reservation residents on an Indian reservation; and
the illiteracy rate of the citizens in the language minority is higher
than the national illiteracy rate.

Do the Section 203 language assistance provisions increase
participation among non-fluent English speakers?

Yes, these provisions increase the political participation by, and electoral
representation of, those who are not fluent in English.

In Harris County, Texas, the turnout among Vietnamese eligible voters
doubled following the DOJ’s efforts to remedy the county’s failure to provide
Vietnamese ballots on its electronic voting machines in 2003.  In 2004,
the first Vietnamese American was elected to the state legislature when he won
over the incumbent by 16 votes. 

Among American Indians, registration and turnout have increased between 50
percent and 150 percent following enactment of the language assistance
requirements. Following the 1992 amendments to Section 203, which significantly
increased coverage for Asian languages after addition of the 10,000 numerical
benchmark, Asian Americans had the highest increase of new voter
registrations—approximately 58.7 percent—and a turnout increase of 71
percent.  The Latino voter registration rate, which was 34.9 percent in
1974, has nearly doubled since the language assistance provisions have been in
effect. 

Is bilingual assistance costly?
No. GAO studies in both 1984 and 1997 found minimal costs to jurisdictions for
providing language assistance. A 2005 study of election officials in the 31
states covered by Section 203 confirmed these results, finding that 39.5
percent of jurisdictions reported no additional costs for providing language
assistance, with most of the remaining responding jurisdictions incurring
expenses of less than 1.5 percent of their entire election budgets for oral
assistance and less than 3 percent for written assistance. 

 

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition
charged by its diverse membership to promote and protect the rights of all
persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America
as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference
and its 200-plus member organizations, visit www.civilrights.org.