Multilingual Elections

A Nation Divided: The Consequences of Multilingual Elections

SEVEN Reasons Why Congress ShouldREPEAL
the Multilingual Voting Requirements of the
Voting Rights Act



The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) was enacted to eliminate barriers to voter registration that had been used to prevent black citizens from registering and voting. But in 1975, Congress amended the Act to mandate multilingual voting assistance. Set forth under Secs. 203 and 4(f)(4), these provisions require covered jurisdictions at their own expense to provide multilingual election materials for specified language minorities. These include American Indians, Asian Americans, Alaskan Natives, and Americans of “Spanish Heritage.” Congress renewed the multilingual voting assistance provisions in 1982, 1992, and again 2007. They are now scheduled to expire in 2032.   Rep. Peter King’s H.R. 1164, the National Language Act of 2011, would repeal the bilingual ballot provisions contained in Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act.

The following are reasons why Congress should repeal these provisions:

  • Protection for limited English proficient voters already exists. Current law states: “Any voter who requires assistance to vote by reason of blindness, disability, or inability to read or write,” including limited English proficient persons, “may be given assistance by a person of the voter’s choice. . .” (42USC1973aa-6). This is preferable to the VRA’s bilingual ballot requirements because it puts the responsibility for coping with ballots in English on citizens exercising their right to vote, and not on local taxpayers.
  • They contradict current naturalization law and undermine assimilation. Since 1907, Congress has required candidates for naturalization to demonstrate “an understanding of the English language, including an ability to read, write, and speak English in ordinary usage in the English language” (8USC1423). Multilingual elections eliminate an important incentive for immigrants to learn English and become full participants in American public life.
  • They are unfunded mandates and a growing financial burden on affected states and counties. The number of states and counties required to provide election materials in foreign languages has increased over time. In 1975, only a handful of counties in a few states were covered under Secs. 203 and 4(f)(4). Today, nearly 248 counties and municipalities in 25 states are being compelled to hire bilingual poll workers and produce election materials in foreign languages at significant cost to taxpayers.
  • They are wasteful.  A Government Accountability (GAO) report to Congress in 1986 found widespread evidence that multilingual ballots and election materials are barely used in practice.
  • They increase the risk of errors and fraud. Multilingual ballots have resulted in a series of embarrassing errors. For instance in the closely contested 2000 general election six polls in heavily Chinese precincts of Queens, N.Y. had “Democratic” translated in Chinese as “Republican” and vice versa on Election Day ballots (Fiona Yung, “Chinatown ballot shows Republican as Democrat,” The Village Voice, Nov. 13, 2000). The availability of multilingual ballots also increases the risk that non-citizens will knowingly or unknowingly vote illegally, and increases the risk of voter intimidation, manipulation, and fraud.
  • They were intended to be temporary. The multilingual election requirements were not part of the original Voting Rights Act and were adopted as a temporary, remedial measure. The rationale for their adoption was based on the premise that certain long-term resident minority populations had not had equal access to educational opportunities in the U.S. as demonstrated by their literacy rates. This rationale has long since been superseded by events and the passage of time. But today the Census Bureau has arbitrarily expanded the definition of “Asian American” to include people from India, who surveys show have among the highest educational achievement levels of any group in the U.S.
  • The American people are opposed to multilingual ballots. A June 2011 Rasmussen poll found that 58 percent of likely voters including 60 percent of independent voters oppose printing ballots in languages other than English.

Appeal to County Clerks in covered jurisdictions:  If you are considering filing a suit to challenge the constitutionality of Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, please contact ProEnglish for assistance at (703) 816-8821 or