Determinations for Bilingual Ballots Are Under Threat
June 18, 2012 — In the latest blow to minority voter participation, funding for the American Community Survey (ACS) is under threat. The Congressional Joint Economic Committee is holding a public hearing tomorrow, June 19, on the economic impact of eliminating the ACS.
The ACS, which replaced the decennial census long form, is an ongoing survey conducted throughout the decade that asks respondents to identify their citizenship, level of English proficiency, and educational attainment. This data is then used to determine the need for bilingual ballots, translated voting materials, and interpreters at poll sites for voters with limited English proficiency pursuant to Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act.
“The ACS is the only way to get specific information about various ethnic groups to determine whether or not counties need to provide language assistance in elections,” said Glenn D. Magpantay of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), which has conducted multilingual exit polls over the past decade to identify emerging language minority groups.
In the past, determinations for language assistance under Section 203 were made only once every ten years with the decennial census. The ACS, however, is distributed to a random sample of the population every month. With the information obtained from the ACS, determinations for Section 203 language assistance can be assessed far more often and more accurately.
Last fall, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that bilingual ballots, translated voter registration forms, and interpreters must now be provided to Asian American voters in 11 states, covering 22 cities/counties, in six Asian languages, under Section 203.
“The continuation of the ACS is necessary for making meaningful determinations of language assistance under the Voting Rights Act,” said Magpantay. “If funding for the ACS is removed, it will stifle the political participation of the growing number of Asian American voters.”
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