New York—The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) this week urged Congress to reauthorize and expand Language Assistance Provisions under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act. The historic federal provisions require that certain jurisdictions guarantee translated voting materials and bilingual interpretation on Election Day.
For more than a decade, AALDEF has monitored elections on a regular basis for compliance of section 203 of the Voting Rights Act. At a Congressional hearing Tuesday, AALDEF Executive Director Margaret Fung told Congress, Section 203 has removed barriers to voting and opened up the political process to thousands of Asian Americans, many of them first-time voters and new citizens. It is essential that Section 203 be extended for 25 years and also expanded, so that Asian Americans can overcome a legacy of institutional racism and participate fully in the democratic process, she added.
Section 203 applies to counties that have at least 5% or more than 10,000 voting-age citizens who speak the same language, are limited-English proficient, and as a group, have higher illiteracy rate than the national illiteracy rate (measured by educational attainment). AALDEF urges Congress to immediately reauthorize Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act and lower the Language Assistance Provision trigger to 7,500 or 5,000, so that communities with growing Asian American populations will be able to increase voter turnout and participation in local and national elections.
Currently, 16 jurisdictions in the U.S. provide at least one of five Asian language communities under Section 203 (Chinese, Tagalog, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese), affecting more than 672,000 Asian American voters. Lowering the numerical trigger to 7,500 voting-age citizens would add nine new jurisdictions and remove language barriers for at least 77,955 limited English proficient Asian American citizens eligible to vote and expand covered languages to Hindi and Cambodian. Lowering the trigger to 5,000 voting-age citizens would add 22 new jurisdictions and remove language barriers for at least 79,170 limited English proficient citizen voters and initiate bilingual voting assistance in four new states: Texas, Maryland, Virginia, and Hawaii and additionally assist Thai-speaking voters.
To read a transcript of Fung’s testimony, click here.
For more background on Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, please download AALDEFs fact sheet, Language Access to the Vote for Asian Americans.