Reader Emelyn McKay of University Place had an interesting question after reading our editorial about legislation that would force Pierce County to go to all-mail voting.
The editorial grudgingly concedes that economic realities make it less feasible to keep the polls open and noted that the county is expecting an additional expense after the 2010 Census results are in: “In 2011 the county likely will have to make election materials available in Korean and Spanish due to growth in those populations.”
Requirements for citizenship state that applicants must be able to read, write, speak and understand English words in ordinary use. Also, an applicant must demonstrate knowledge of the fundamentals of U.S. history and certain principles of U.S. government. If these qualifications are met, why would a native language ballot be necessary?
I asked Auditor Julie Anderson to respond. Here’s what she had to say:
Congress passed the language minority provisions because it found that citizens of language minorities have been effectively excluded from participation in the electoral process.
Your reader perceives a conflict between two federal laws. I will not attempt to debate that. I would only point out that the reader’s citation pertains to individuals who become citizens by naturalization. It does not address citizens born into non-English speaking households.
At any rate, our obligations in elections are very clear, depending on the 2010 Census outcome.
Helpful Web sites include:
Section 301(a)(4) of the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) requires that a voting system “shall provide alternative language accessibility pursuant to the requirements of section 203 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. 1973aa-1a).” HAVA defines a “voting system” to include the equipment used to cast and count votes and report results, as well as the practices and documentation used to test and maintain the system and provide materials to voters, such as notices, instructions, forms or ballots. (HAVA § 301(b).)
Under the Voting Rights Act, a covered state or political subdivision (county) is required to provide voting materials in the language(s) of the applicable minority group(s), as well as in English. Where the minority language is oral or unwritten, the state or political subdivision is only required to furnish oral instructions, assistance or other information relating to registration and voting. (42 U.S.C. 1973aa-1a(c).)
The term “voting materials” means registration or voting notices, forms, instructions, assistance, or other materials or information relating to the electoral process, including ballots. (42 U.S.C. 1973aa-1a(b)(3)(A).) Voting materials also include such items as voter registration forms, applications for absentee ballots, ballot pamphlets, polling place signs, and voting system instructions. A “covered state or political subdivision” is one in which the census data indicates that one of the following is true:
• More than 5 percent of the citizens of voting age of the state or political subdivision are members of a single language minority and are limited-English proficient;
• More than 10,000 of the citizens of voting age of the political subdivision are members of a single language minority and are limited-English proficient; or
• In the case of a political subdivision that contains all or any part of an Indian reservation, more than 5 percent of the American Indian or Alaska Native citizens of voting age within the Indian reservation are members of a single language minority and are limited-English proficient. (42 U.S.C. 1973aa-1a(b)(2)(A)(i); 28 C.F.R. 55.6.)
We’ll learn more about the implementation process as the year progresses.