Advocates Worry about Language Access at Polls

AP, Nov. 1, 2008

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The federal Voting Rights Act requires jurisdictions that have a certain number of residents who speak a language other than English and who have limited proficiency in English to provide all election materials in that language, and to provide assistance such as interpreters.

Thirty states have jurisdictions that fall under the language requirements, according to the latest Census list, from 2002. That includes Florida, where Miami-Dade County must have material in Spanish, and neighboring Broward County must provide it for Hispanic and Seminole communities.

Meeting requirements

In New York, the Bronx must offer material in Spanish; Brooklyn and Manhattan must offer it in Spanish and Chinese; and Queens has to have it in Spanish, Chinese and Korean.

The Department of Justice said this past week that its Civil Rights Division will send more than 800 observers and department personnel to 59 jurisdictions in 23 states on Tuesday to monitor compliance with the Voting Rights Act, including its minority language provisions.

Advocates say there have been problems in past election in availability of foreign-language signs and properly trained interpreters.

“Compliance with the language provision is spotty at best,” said Nina Perales, southwest regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “Some do a good job, some don’t do anything.”

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