On November 8th, Americans will be voting in one of the most important presidential elections in the country’s history.
With such a diverse population, it is crucial that all citizens understand as much as possible about their right to vote, regardless of their cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was designed to minimize legal barriers at the state and local level that prevented minority groups from exercising their right to vote. In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled to get rid of one of the most highly debated sections of the act, which has reopened the discussion of whether or not federal officials should have the right to veto changes in state and local voting laws.
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act required state and local governments with a history of discriminatory voting laws to get preclearance from the federal government to make any changes to their existing voting laws. The purpose was to prevent changes in voter ID laws, district boundaries, and polling locations that could suppress minority votes.
Regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision, several national groups are taking action to help minority groups understand their local voting laws. The bottom line is that there are millions of Americans who English with limited proficiency, and several different voting laws in various states.
“Language stands as a real barrier for voters seeking to participate in the political process, most especially today in an increasingly diverse world,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
“There’s a need for clarity. We believe that every vote counts and every voter should have access to information regardless of the language they speak,” said Joanna Cuevas Ingram, associate council with Latino Justice PRLDEF (Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Educational Fund).
Certain states are also taking a proactive approach to help non-English speaking voters understand their rights to vote. Mississippi, for example has translated voter ID materials in a number of languages to support citizens with limited English proficiency.
“We were not legally obliged to provide the Spanish translation, but did so voluntarily for the benefit of our Spanish-speaking voters,” said a spokeswoman for the Mississippi secretary of stat’s office.
Whether or not states have the right to make changes to their voting laws, we can all agree that discriminatory practices must be minimized. Providing all Americans with the information they need to vote is essential to the functionality of a democratic political system. With the help of national voting rights groups and state and local governments, we can be more confident that non-English speaking Americans will have a stronger voice in the upcoming election.