Asian Americans Advancing Justice - LA

Building upon the legacy of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center

Make California the standard-bearer for limited English speaking voters

Thursday, October 12th 2017

By Dolores Huerta

California needs to work harder to ensure ballot access for limited-English speaking voters. I should know – I’ve been fighting for bilingual ballots for over 50 years.

In the 1960’s, we quickly realized the need for Spanish-language ballots. It is next to impossible to cast an informed vote when English is not your first language. As the political director of the Community Service Organization (CSO), I was proud to partner with then-Governor Pat Brown to expand democracy to those that had been denied this right in the past.

Our voting population, along with our diversity, has expanded considerably since that time. Today, there are voters in our state who face similar barriers to the ones I fought against more than 50 years ago. Nearly 550,000 limited-English proficient (LEP) Latinos and Asian Americans rely on our state law for election materials in their preferred language in order to vote.

During last year’s presidential election, the Dolores Huerta Foundation teamed up with Asian Americans Advancing Justice-California to recruit volunteer poll monitors to protect access to the polls. In the Central Valley, we found large numbers of Tagalog- and Hindi-speaking voters for which current state laws simply don’t work. In Kings, Kern, and Tulare Counties, 18 percent of translated ballots, also known as “facsimile ballots,” weren’t posted at designated polling sites. In some large, diverse counties, the rate of missing facsimile ballots last November was as high as 40 percent. If they were found, voters who wanted to use them were denied the privacy of a voting booth because the facsimile ballots were posted on the wall.

We call upon Governor Jerry Brown to follow in his father’s legacy. Assembly Bill 918 by Assemblymember Rob Bonta is awaiting signature on his desk. If signed into law, it would give limited-English speaking voters more access to translated ballots. It would guarantee translated signage in polling places, poll worker training, and use of facsimile ballots in the privacy of a voting booth.

No one should be deprived of exercising their right to vote. While we spend many resources encouraging people to vote, we also need to provide ballots in the language they understand for those who want to vote. With our voting rights being marched backward around the nation, California has another opportunity to lead by example and to show the country our commitment to an inclusive and accessible democracy for everyone.

Spanish version published on La Opinion.

Dolores Huerta is President of the Dolores Huerta Foundation and Co-Founder, with Cesar Chavez, of the United Farm Workers.

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