I don’t want to make it difficult for immigrants, who for a variety of perfectly legitimate reasons, find it difficult to participate in elections if their grasp of English isn’t what it should be. I still have to wonder though why Spanish language ballots are required for a county under federal law if the Census Bureau determines that a sufficient number of non-English speakers are simply residents of the county, even if they’re not registered to vote. Requirements like this are putting a significant of a burden on electoral boards already struggling to deal with redistricting and the short election cycle it creates and will inevitably result in chaos we could avoid.
From the Fairfax Times:
The announcement has thrown a wrench into the county’s preparations in an already challenging voting year, said Electoral Board Secretary Carol Ann Coryelle.
Virginia and the county underwent redistricting this year, which required extra staff time, she said, and the party primaries were moved from June to late August, shortening the time to prepare for the general election.
“We’ve got a lot of things hitting us all at once,” Coryelle said.
Although the notice arrived too late to get the ballots or electronic voting machines changed, Coryelle said the election staff has been scrambling to get signs and other materials translated and printed in Spanish. Bilingual county staff from other departments have assisted with the translations, she said.
We naturalize immigrants who don’t demonstrate English proficiency when they’re elderly (even as young as 50, sometimes) or in a few other special circumstances, and while I don’t quite understand the rationale behind all of those decisions, it’s the law right now. If you really want to be a citizen, you probably can find a way to understand the language of this country, if not simply for the opportunity to participate fully in American society rather than be a second-class citizen who cannot fully participate in what’s going on, regardless of voting rights. I can’t imagine perpetually living in a state where I’m separated from the rest of society by a language barrier that I could tear down myself if I chose to do it.
The likelihood that Fairfax County really does have a huge population of voters who need Spanish ballots is small, though. The determination on whether the electoral board needs to jump through these hoops isn’t based on voter demographics, but on population demographics of persons of voting age. You dump 10,000 Spanish Speaking illegal aliens in a county who aren’t eligible to vote and presto, the law says you have to start developing Spanish-speaking voter materials. That makes no sense at all. It’s like requiring infantry units be supplied with tampons for every soldier when women aren’t assigned to combat units, because women might show up sometime.
We’re paying a lot of money to develop and produce these voter matierals and there’s no indication at all that they’re really needed. When Virginia could instead simply make translators available by phone (that could be used in the voting booth) to non-English speakers to meet actual needs when they arise, in addition to Virginia’s curious law that allows translators to personally assist in the voting booth (who are often political operatives not assisting voters, but telling them what to do) we’d solve the problem and spend a lot less money doing so. Meet the actual need, not a crazy worst-case scenario that will never happen.
In short, define the need, and define a solution that meets that need. Not just wildly swing at a problem armed with seemingly inexhaustible supplies of taxpayer dollars.
If state or federal laws impose all sorts of unrealistic burdens on our elections, we’ll be shifting resources from where they’re need to where they’re not. With all the challenges elections officials face during a redistricting year where all the boundaries shift, election cycles are compressed, and lots of voters need assistance in navigating all the changes, imposing foreign language requirements when there’s no clear demonstration of need is nonsense. It doesn’t help ensure the smooth operation of elections, it actually throws sand in the gears.
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