An article in Mother Jones claims that Newt Gin.grinch and Mitt R.money want to disenfranchise millions of voters by removing the requirement that ballots be printed in multiple languages if the population of non-English speakers is sufficiently large to warrant it.
I've got to say, I agree with R.money and Gin.grinch here. English proficiency is a requirement for citizenship when you are naturalized. Native-born Americans and foreigners marrying Americans have every chance and incentive to learn English, and have no excuse for not being able to read a ballot. It's really that simple.
If you can't speak English, you can't engage in the political conversation. You can't listen to a debate and understand what's going on. If you're dependent on a translator, you'll miss a lot of nuance. Furthermore, translators will put their own personal spin on what the speaker is saying, and may mislead listeners -- intentionally or not. Ultimately, people who can't understand English are condemned to being told what to think. Worse, they can't participate in the public conversation and make their own views known to others who aren't just like them.
As for the ballots themselves, the article says:
"Some of these ballot measures involve very complex legal language," Camila Gallardo of the Latino civil rights organization National Council of La Raza points out. "Some of the language is hard to understand even for fluent English speakers, let alone if your first language isn't English."Exactly. How can we trust that the translation of that complex English text is accurate and unbiased? And if the translators themselves don't really grasp the original English, there's no way to ensure an accurate translation.
The legal requirement for multiple languages on ballots is discriminatory in and of itself.
Covered language minorities are limited to American Indians, Asian Americans, Alaskan Natives, and Spanish-heritage citizens - the groups that Congress found to have faced barriers in the political process.It's an understandable sentiment. But Russian and Somali immigrants living in Miami are forced to learn English (or Spanish) if they want to read the ballot. Just because there are fewer of them doesn't mean they shouldn't get equal treatment under the law. And these days Somali Americans are facing at least as much discrimination as Latino Americans.
Then there are technical problems with multiple ballots and multilingual ballots. The more options you add to a ballot, the more confusing it gets and the more likely it is that your vote will not register as you intend it to. Remember Florida in 2000?
There are several existing solutions to this problem that would eliminate the costs and potential errors of multilingual ballots. People who have trouble reading English can register for an absentee ballot, giving them ample time to go over it and recruit an interpreter if necessary. In most places the blind and physically handicapped can bring a helper of their choice to assist them in the voting. The voter may still be relying on another person telling them what to think, but at least it will be a person of their choosing.
I think a big part of this has to do with language being such an important part of cultural identity. Many immigrant parents bemoan the fact that their kids don't learn to speak their ancestral tongue. Many feel that their culture will slip away completely if they learn to speak English. It's a common and reasonable fear, because it happens with every generation of immigrant Americans. How may proud Irish and German Americans speak Irish or German these days?
But when you come right down to it, if someone isn't comfortable with the culture of the United States and can't understand ninety-nine percent of everything going on in this country, perhaps it isn't the right place for them to live. Or vote.