Ballots In a Foreign Language?


Over at The Muche, lilMike has (once again) started a discussion regarding the voting rights of Hispanics in general, and Puerto Ricans in particular. Specifically, the right of said citizens to be able to read ballots in Spanish in order to better understand political issues facing them. Mike’s referencing a federal court case here in Volusia County, Florida, in which a settlement has been reached in a lawsuit filed two years ago by Crimilda Perez-Santiago. From the Orlando Sentinel:

DeLAND – On the eve of a federal trial, Volusia County and a group of Puerto Rican-born west Volusia residents have reached a tentative settlement of a lawsuit over bilingual ballots.

Five residents and the Volusia County Hispanic Association filed suit against Volusia County for not providing a Spanish-language ballot during the 2008 election.

Details of the settlement are still being negotiated but to end the lawsuit, the county could pay $99,995 to LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the legal defense organization representing the plaintiffs, said Volusia County Elections Supervisor Ann McFall.

The county would also agree to provide interpreters and bilingual poll workers at certain precincts, and to provide bilingual ballots in 2012, McFall said.

The agreement would have to be approved by the Volusia County Council, which is scheduled to discuss the settlement on April 15.

McFall said that if the case had gone to trial and if the county had lost, it would have cost Volusia County half a million dollars.

John Garcia, spokesman for LatinoJustice PRLDEF, said the organization would not comment on the pending settlement. PRLDEF is an acronym for the group’s original name Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claimed that under the Voting Rights Act, they were entitled to a ballot in Spanish because they were raised in schools in Puerto Rico where Spanish is the dominant language.

Although Volusia County already provides some assistance to Spanish-language residents, it didn’t provide bilingual ballots.

Volusia County has about 18,000 registered voters who are self-described as Hispanic, McFall said.

Entwined in the stereotypical protestations that “English is the national language!” and “I think that anyone who wishes to become a citizen of the US needs to be able to speak English well enough to function among English speaking people!” one sees an obvious lack of knowledge – an ignorance, if you will – of our laws. In stating his disapproval of the court case, Mike states:

I think it’s simply a community activist organization shopped for an aggrieved “victim” to push their particular political agenda.”

Now…that statement may or may not be true. However, it certainly shouldn’t marginalize the fact that Americans of Hispanic heritage in this nation are provided the necessary protections based upon population to be able to view ballots and election material in a language other than English:

The law covers those localities where there are more than 10,000 or over 5 percent of the total voting age citizens in a single political subdivision (usually a county, but a township or municipality in some states) who are members of a single minority language group, have depressed literacy rates, and do not speak English very well.

It’s fairly obvious that following the 2010 Census, Volusia County (and most likely, every county in the State) will need to follow these requirements. Unfortunately, lilMike didn’t verify this fact until he had riled the populace:

Although it does seem pointless.  It sounds like the census from 2010 will probably have every county in Central Florida with bilingual ballots.  So that will happen regardless.

As is often the case, I wonder just who, exactly, is pushing disinformation* in an attempt to “push their particular political agenda“!

*Merriam-Webster: Disinformation:  false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth.

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7 responses »

  1. Don’t I get some thanks for practically giving you a topic Howey? Anyway, to clear up a little fog you were throwing out, I was not the one who was saying “English is the national language!” and “I think that anyone who wishes to become a citizen of the US needs to be able to speak English well enough to function among English speaking people!”

    Those were written by others in the thread. Just to clear things up.

    Do you need me to generate any other ideas for your blog?

    • Coming from the guy who has a history of blatantly misquoting others, I find it hilarious that you would accuse me of doing the same thing! Nowhere in my post did I attribute either of those comments to you. Those comments were made by people who don’t participate in this forum, therefore their names were not divulged.

      As far as generating new topics for my blog, yes. Thank you! Someone out there has to have the gumption to negate your shit-stirring disinformation disguised as “newz”.

      There’s a couple more blogs in the works regarding some of your crazy right wing agendas. Stay tuned!

  2. Thanks for the comment, Michael. While I’ll agree with the notion of a need for immigrants to learn their host country’s language (btw…I lived in Texas as a young child and learned Spanish as a second language, then lived in Germany during my formative years and in the military and learned German as a third language), the fact is that these people are American citizens. If translation into their home language is needed to explain our complicated political process, then so be it.

    • I am (obviously) not an expert on US citizenships, but I was under the impression that a working command of English was a pre-requisite for immigrants wanting citizenship—which would imply that they only become citizen if they do not need such help in the first place.

      Apart from that, I see no reason why the US should have an obligation to help those who have not learned the language. If push comes to shove, they have the option of self-help (as discussed previously)—and the question has to be raised whether they can make a sufficiently informed choice between the candidates, if they do not speak English (implying that they have a limited ability to follow debates, being up-to-date on the relevant issues, whatnot).

      (This excepting special cases, as mentioned in my first post.)

      • I see…perhaps you aren’t aware that Puerto Ricans are US citizens and primarily speak a language other than English in their everyday life?

        It’s hard enough for English-speaking US citizens to understand the complicated and confusing literature out there. I can imagine what it’s like for someone who speaks English as a second language.

      • Puerto Rico is indeed something I did not consider. (On TV they tend to speak near-perfect English with an added accent…)

        Still, if the reading on the subject is confusing to native English speakers, that is a more urgent issue: Start by translating from “legalese” into English, evaluate the practical results, and then re-visit this discussion.

  3. While I cannot speak for the specifics of the above situation, I strongly feel that an immigrant should learn the language of his country of residence—or live with the consequences. Notably, gaining just some reading ability does not take that much effort between related languages.

    Some leeway may be needed for those who are very new in the country or who migrated at a higher age; however, even here remedies are usually available, e.g. countrymen or family members who have a better knowledge and can help out in the transitional period.

    If someone has lived in a country for several years and does not have a working knowledge of the language, then (unless there are extraordinary circumstances, e.g. a learning disorder) he has himself to blame for the problems that may ensue because of this—and he should not be given special treatment.

    Finally, “If you give a man a fish, he has food for a day; if you teach him to fish, he has food for a life-time.”: The efforts of society should be directed at helping immigrants learn the local language—not at helping them get by without learning.

    For the record, I am, myself, an immigrant (Sweden to Germany).

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