HomeAsian AmericansVoting accessibility expands for limited-English Asian Americans

Voting accessibility expands for limited-English Asian Americans

Limited-English Californians will soon have increased access to voting information in their native language, thanks to a state appeals court ruling on Monday.

The First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco determined that California election officials are not fully complying with a law that requires them to provide ballot materials in languages other than English, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Secretary of State Alex Padilla had relied on a federal law provision that requires assistance only for language minorities that constitute at least 5% of a county’s population. However, state law covers language minorities that make up 3% of the voting-age population in a precinct.

The court ruled that Padilla had wrongly used the higher federal threshold to decide which language minorities would have translated material, thereby excluding other minority populations that should have been covered under state law.

Assistance for limited-English citizens includes translated voter materials, such as a voter information guide, polling-place signs and county election websites, the Chronicle reported. Translated facsimile ballots that voters can reference while marking the actual English ballot are also a requirement.

Translated information is crucial for limited-English proficient voters, who would otherwise lack the skills to vote without language help, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Northern California wrote in a press release.

Fourteen Asian languages will have new or updated assistance in the 2020 election, 11 of which have never been covered in the state, according to ACLU Northern California. Of the 14 language minorities, Japanese, Hindi, and Thai speakers are the most impacted by the court decision. Hmong and Punjabi, two additional languages that currently have partial coverage, will have expanded access in 2020.

Attorney Jonathan Stein of the Asian Law Caucus told the Chronicle that if the ruling stands, it will require over 1,300 precincts in California to have new or updated language materials.

“This means 56,000 limited-English-speaking California residents will have access to translated voting materials in our critical 2020 election,” he said.

The plaintiffs, which include the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus and Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, filed a suit last year demanding language assistance for all language communities that meet the 3% threshold. But due to limitations on the definition of “language minority” under federal law, the ACLU Northern California reported that the court ruling only applied to Asian languages.

“We’re thrilled that many limited-English speaking Asian American voters in California will receive translated voting assistance for the first time in 2020 under this ruling. That is voting assistance they are owed under the plain language of California state law,” Stein told the ACLU. “We are disappointed, however, that the court did not agree with us that full language access is owed to all limited-English speaking communities in California.”

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