June 26, 2013
Currently a state law, set to expire December 31, 2013, requires areas where more than five percent of residents speak another language and have little proficiency in English, provide bilingual voting materials and ballots.
Members of the community, the Dorchester Organizing and Training Initiative, and other advocacy groups are pushing to renew the measure and increase support for House Bill 616, which will remove the expiration date.
“We really want to get the community together to show how important this is,” explained Phi Tran, a coordinator for the Dorchester Organizing and Training Initiative. “There has been some push back against the cost, but we’re trying to show that it is needed and does help get people out to vote.”
Opponents of the bilingual ballots, however, contend that along with being costly, current rules already allow for interpreters making bilingual ballots a waste of resources.
“It just seems really unnecessary,” explained Rosalie Porter, chair of the board for ProEnglish, a national English language advocacy group. “There really shouldn’t be a need for a ballot in another language. When you become a citizen you have to be able speak and write English and I think it would make more sense not to give people the idea that they can always get a ballot in some other language.”
Tran though said that interpreters aren’t always available and bilingual ballots help empower citizens.
“When people don’t have that encouragement and confidence to vote it disenfranchises a community,” Tran said. “Living in a new country is about getting involved and bilingual ballots are a way to involve and empower people.”
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