Census Bureau releases 2021 list of jurisdictions requiring Asian language assistance under the Voting Rights Act
NEW YORK — Today, the Census Bureau released its updated list of jurisdictions that are required by the federal Voting Rights Act to provide translated ballots, voting materials, and bilingual poll workers for specific language minority groups. The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) issued the following statement:
“Voting is a sacred part of our democracy as Americans. For many Asian Americans who speak limited English, the lack of language assistance and bilingual ballots is an unfair barrier to participating in the electoral process. The Voting Rights Act promises language access to Americans who cannot speak English well, and speak specific languages, including several Asian languages. This list of cities and counties is just a snapshot of the great diversity Asian Americans bring to America, and a reflection of the needs of the fastest growing population of any racial or ethnic group in the country. AALDEF will be monitoring these jurisdictions to ensure they are effectively providing the language access promised by federal law,” said Susana Lorenzo-Giguere, Senior Staff Attorney of the Democracy Program at AALDEF.
The following jurisdictions are mandated to provide information and assistance in the specific Asian languages (with newly covered jurisdictions/languages in bold italics):
Aleutians West Census Area: Filipino
Kodiak Island Borough: Filipino
Alameda County: Chinese (including Taiwanese), Filipino, Vietnamese
Contra Costa County: Chinese (including Taiwanese)
Los Angeles County: Cambodian, Chinese (including Taiwanese), Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese
Orange County: Chinese (including Taiwanese), Korean, Vietnamese
Sacramento County: Chinese (including Taiwanese), Vietnamese
San Diego County: Chinese (including Taiwanese), Filipino Vietnamese
San Francisco County: Chinese (including Taiwanese)
San Mateo County: Chinese (including Taiwanese), Filipino
Santa Clara County: Chinese (including Taiwanese), Filipino, Vietnamese
Honolulu County: Chinese (including Taiwanese), Filipino
Maui County: Filipino
Cook County: Chinese (including Taiwanese), Asian Indian (including Sikh)
Lowell city: Cambodian
Malden city: Chinese (including Taiwanese)
Quincy city: Chinese (including Taiwanese)
Randolph Town city: Vietnamese
Hamtramck city: Bangladeshi
Ramsey County: Hmong
Clark County: Filipino
Bergen County: Korean
Middlesex County: Asian Indian (including Sikh)
Kings County (Brooklyn): Chinese (including Taiwanese)
New York County (Manhattan): Chinese (including Taiwanese)
Queens County (Queens): Bangladeshi, Chinese (including Taiwanese), Korean, Asian Indian (including Sikh)
Philadelphia County: Chinese(including Taiwanese)
Dallas County: Vietnamese
Harris County: Chinese (including Taiwanese), Vietnamese
Tarrant County: Vietnamese
Fairfax County: Vietnamese
King County: Chinese (including Taiwanese), Vietnamese
There are now 32 jurisdictions in 14 states mandated by Section 203 to provide voters with Asian language election information assistance, an increase of five jurisdictions from the Census Bureau’s determinations in 2016, consistent with the census reports showing that Asian Americans are the fastest growing population among all racial and ethnic groups in the United States in the last decade.
Section 203 is a critical provision for Asian American voters, many of whom are limited English speaking. AALDEF especially welcomes the addition of the Chinese language in Philadelphia, and the Vietnamese language in Randolph, two of the nine new jurisdictions covered by Section 203 in which AALDEF has regularly conducted its multilingual exit poll of Asian American voters, the largest of its kind in the nation. AALDEF’s Asian American exit poll results were cited when Congress expanded the language assistance provisions of the Voting Rights Act in 1992 to cover more Asian American communities.
For the first time in the United States, the Hmong language is covered under the Voting Rights Act. Minnesota has the largest population of Hmong Americans, and newly covered Ramsey County, Minnesota, is the hometown and birthplace of U.S. Olympic gold medalist Suni Lee.
The updated list includes the following changes:
Bangladeshi in Queens County, NY
Chinese (including Taiwanese) in Philadelphia County, PA
Filipino in Kodiak Island Borough, AK; San Mateo County, CA; and Maui County, HI
Hmong in Ramsey County, MN
Vietnamese in Sacramento County, CA; Randolph Town city, MA; and Dallas County, TX
Filipino in Aleutians East Borough, AK
In 1975, Congress amended the Voting Rights Act to include protections for limited English-speaking citizens under Section 203 to be able to cast a fully informed ballot. The U.S. Congress found that Asian Americans, Latinos, Alaska Natives, and Native Americans faced significant barriers to electoral participation because many were not fully proficient in English. In response, Congress enacted the Language Assistance Provisions under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act targeting those populations. Jurisdictions are covered under Section 203 of the Voting Rights when the Director of the Bureau of the Census certifies that five percent or more than 10,000 voting-age citizens in a town or county speak another language, are limited English speaking, and have a higher illiteracy rate than the national illiteracy rate. Covered jurisdictions must translate ballots, voter registration forms, voting instructions, and all other voting materials they provide in English. They must also provide translated oral assistance on election matters at polling places. The list of covered jurisdictions and the languages for translated voting materials is now updated every five years, as a result of the 2006 amendments to the VRA.
Section 203 encourages local election officials to work with local community-based organizations to develop effective bilingual election programs which meet the needs of the voters they serve. As it has in the past, AALDEF urges full compliance with section 203 in future elections, and will continue to monitor poll sites where there are limited English speaking Asian American voters. AALDEF stands ready to collaborate with covered jurisdictions which are willing to provide compliant and effective bilingual elections programs.
Earlier this year, AALDEF filed a Section 203 complaint against Hamtramck, Michigan over its failure to provide election materials and assistance in Bengali. As a result, the court entered a consent decree ordering Hamtramck’s Bengali language election program for four years. And in 2014, AALDEF filed a complaint against Philadelphia City Commissioners over denial of language access to voters under a municipal ordinance.