Greater Greater Washington

Spanish speaker faced obstacles to voting

My friend Lester Feder relayed a story about about voting problems for non-English speakers in Mt. Pleasant:


Photo by myJon on Flickr.
When I went to vote at Bell Multicultural High School, the polling place for Mt. Pleasant, there was a woman in front of me who did not speak English. Instead of offering her Spanish translation as required by law in a neighborhood with such a large number of Spanish speakers, the poll workers just pointed to the next table after checking her in.

I walked over to pick up my ballot as the poll worker was trying to ask her if she wanted to vote by paper or computer, and I finally just asked her in Spanish which she preferred. The poll worker just pointed to the back of the room where the booths were stationed for filling out ballots, but I had to explain to her that she needed to go up there to fill it out. He did not even point out to her that voting instructions were available in Spanish.

While I was voting, I realized when I got to the ballot question on the attorney general that they had not given her a translation of the question in Spanish, and it was clear that she could not understand it. I went to ask the poll workers if they had a translator, and they responded, "She doesn't understand the ballot when you explain it to her?" They said if I didn't want to help her, they could call a translator on the phone, but there was no one on site.

I wasn't comfortable helping her filling out her ballotbecause my Spanish is not perfect and it feels weird going into the voting booth with another voter, but I translated the entire ballot for her as best I could. She told me afterwards that if I hadn't been there, she would have gone home.

The Justice Department has an explanation of language minority provisions of the Voting Rights Act on its website. ... Section 203 mandates that a state or political subdivision must provide language assistance to voters if more than 5 percent of the voting age citizens are members of a single-language minority group who do not "speak or understand English adequately enough to participate in the electoral process" and if the rate of those citizens who have not completed the fifth grade is higher than the national rate of voting age citizens who have not completed the fifth grade.

It is not clear to me whether DC is a covered jurisdiction under the Voting Rights Act (since we're not a state, and not listed in the code that follows) but I'm pretty sure this was against the law. My ANC candidate, China Terrel, was outside the polls. When I told her, she said "That's unlawful," and said she'd call Jim Graham's office to have the help get someone over there. I also called the Election Protection Hotline (866-OUR-VOTE) and reported it to the Justice Department's Voting Rights Hotline (800-253-3931). But regardless of the federal law, it's still shocking that a city as committed to diversity as ours supposedly is would leave such a basic barrier to voting in place.

Is this a common problem across the District? Have you noticed other non-English speakers having difficulty voting today? If so, what kind of assistance did they receive? If you do witness problems, do not hesitant to contact the Election Protection Hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE.
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Lynda Laughlin is a family demographer at the U.S. Census Bureau. She holds a PhD in sociology and enjoys reading, writing, and researching issues related to families and communities, urban economics, and urban development. Lynda lives in Mt. Pleasant. Views expressed here are strictly her own. 

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Haven't noticed anything in my district (in Silver Spring), but mainly because my neighborhood is largely white, homogeneous and English-speaking. I do have a sticker that says "I voted/Yo voté" on it, which my boss promptly told me he usually cuts in half to get rid of the Spanish, and then explained that he doesn't think non-English speakers should get special help. It's too bad he doesn't understand that multi-cultural diversity also usually means multi-lingual diversity. I doubt his grandparents were able to take the time to leave their linguistic bubble to go learn English. Makes me frustrated to hear that some people (not just conservatives like my boss) just can't seem to realize that democracy sometimes means slower, more costly, more frustrating, but it also means universal, inclusionary, and free.

by Eric on Nov 2, 2010 2:20 pm • linkreport

During the 2009 Fiesta DC Festival in Mount Pleasant, I attended along with Councilmember Jim Graham, who was supposed to give a speech there. This was in the middle of the Ted Loza scandal, so he was reluctant and eventually left the place without saying a word.

Later, I asked him why did he do that, when there were so many Native peoples there (or Hispanics as white people call us). He could reach out to those young people. His response was shocking, he said he didn't care because most the people attending Fiesta DC "don't live in Ward 1" or "they can't vote" he replied laughing hard.

When it comes to Latinos, many politicians in D.C. that pretend to be progressives, are as racist as the other party. The seem only to care about us when the media is present, and when is convenient to keep an image of inclusiveness.

Not having a Spanish-English translator at Bell High School is unacceptable. If you call Jim Graham, tell him the media is there, he will be there in 5 minutes.

by Carlos in DC on Nov 2, 2010 2:29 pm • linkreport

Here's a hint: about half of this country's elected officials don't want Spanish-speaking people to vote. People in a particular political party have even put adverts on Spanish language radio telling people to stay away from the polls altogether. And as bad as it might be in DC, it's a good bet it's ten times worse in other places.

by aaa on Nov 2, 2010 2:38 pm • linkreport

You think Spanish speaker faced obstacles to voting now, wait till 2012, when we know who will control a lot of state legislatures and governor houses come January.

by RJ on Nov 2, 2010 2:43 pm • linkreport

I was given written instructions in Spanish at my polling place in Ward 5 this morning even though I speak English. It seems like the instructions should have been more effectively distributed, but DC has the resources in place.

by ward 5 on Nov 2, 2010 3:01 pm • linkreport

When I voted early during the primary, the poll worker gave me all these instructions on how to vote and then asked me if I wanted a ballot in English or Spanish... considering she had already given me the instructions already in English, I thought it was a bit odd to ask but nice to have the option.

by Adam L on Nov 2, 2010 3:07 pm • linkreport

If you are going to vote in the US, you should know English.

by Steve on Nov 2, 2010 3:11 pm • linkreport

I wonder how effectively the message of each candidate reached Spanish speaking potential voters if they cannot speak English? Is that an informed choice? Or is voting such a sacred right that we don't really care? If you require non-English speakers to get complete voting instructions and help in their native language by law, then you have to consider these questions, too. By law.

by Glenn on Nov 2, 2010 3:17 pm • linkreport

@Steve:
If you're going to vote in the US, you should know Cherokee, Delaware, and Algonquin, among other languages.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...
Nothing in there about English. All men (and women) are created equal, regardless of their location of birth or their mother tongue.

Those men and women who are citizens of the United States have the right to vote, and the government should take all feasible steps to make that possible, including having ballots in Spanish and other languages.

Shame on you. Shame! We should not and must not deny or infringe upon someone's right to vote, nor should we stand idly by while that happens. That vote is the building block of our Republic.

by Matt Johnson on Nov 2, 2010 3:20 pm • linkreport

Si no puede hablar en ingles, por favor, regresa a tu pais. Hay latinos que queremos ser parte de los Estados Unidos. Aprendemos el ingles y votamos en las elecciones. Si una persona no ha hecho el esfuerzo para aprender el idioma de este pais, no merece votar. Claramente no se siente parte de esta nacion. Gracias.

People like this make the rest of us look bad. Those of us who want to be part of this country, we learned English. This is sad.

-An American from Mexico

by Paco on Nov 2, 2010 3:22 pm • linkreport

Bravo Paco. Algunos grigos como yo podemos hablar otras lenguas. Pero cuando viví en Chile hace unos años, jamas me ocurrió insistir en ser tratado en inglés para servicios públicos de cualquier tipo. Aprendí español (y no mapuche).

We can all do better.

(Bravo Paco. Some gringos like me can speak other languages. But when I lived in Chile a few years ago, it never occurred to me to demand public services in English (or Mapuche, for that matter).

by Glenn on Nov 2, 2010 3:29 pm • linkreport

Hey Matt, how is denying someone a Spanish translator infringing upon their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Rights are not blank checks to whatever we want; they are privileges to pursue the betterment of our lives and society. My constitutional rights do not provide me with mandating that someone else provide me with a ballot in whatever language or in whatever format I so choose. They provide me the opportunity to pursue my dreams and goals within the laws of this country.

by Paco on Nov 2, 2010 3:31 pm • linkreport

Sorry about the accents. The program will not accept them. Could it be Mt. Pleasant based?

by Glenn on Nov 2, 2010 3:31 pm • linkreport

An update:
I spoke with someone at the Board of Elections. They apparently had Spanish language materials at the polls, including a translated sample ballot, but either the poll workers did not know they were there, or did not understand they were responsible for providing them. (I suspect they didn't know they were there—I made a scene, and I feel like they would have done what's necessary to get rid of me.) They also are supposed to make an effort to place staff with language skills in the neighborhoods where they're likely to be needed, so it's unclear why there was no one there at the time I voted.

DC is, in fact, not covered by the language provisions of the Voting Rights Act because we don't reach the foreign-language threshold of 5%. But, seriously, I was vote at the *multicultural* high school. If the city's committed enough to diversity to have a high school built around the concept, might we not also be able to include all our citizens on election day?

by Lester Feder on Nov 2, 2010 3:51 pm • linkreport

@Matt

Don't be so butthurt. If they're US citizens, then they should be able to, in the words of the INS, "Be able to read, write, and speak English and have knowledge and an understanding of U.S. history and government (civics)."

So, all of those people who you are supposedly sticking up for either shouldn't have become citizens in the first place, or mysteriously forgot English since their citizenship test...

by MPC on Nov 2, 2010 3:57 pm • linkreport

Many of you seem to forget that most of the people working the polls are volunteers, not paid employees. There is no requirement for volunteers to speak multiple languages, and our education systems doesn't make students become fluent in multiple languages. And why is it that nobody is complaining they don't have Arabic, Korean, or Chinese translators? If you have to have it for one, you need it for everyone. If you feel so strongly about this issue, why aren't you taking a day off work to volunteer to translate? Its a RESOURCE issue, not a racial issue. Or here's a thought - those who do not speak English - do your homework and research the ballot BEFORE you show up at the polls. I do. Sample ballots are being handed out in English and Spanish by the parties out front of the polls, but you have to be interested enough in the process to find that out. You want to improve the situation, do something about it. Don't just sit there and complain, calling other people racist.

by LC on Nov 2, 2010 4:00 pm • linkreport

@MPC

Pretty sure if you're born here you don't have to take a citizenship test...

by MLD on Nov 2, 2010 4:02 pm • linkreport

At Bell Multicultural High School : irony

by Chuck on Nov 2, 2010 4:05 pm • linkreport

@MPC

Pretty sure if you're born here you don't have to take a citizenship test...

So where does it end then? If you're born here and can't learn freaking English after 18 years, then honestly you're probably too dumb to make an informed vote anyway.

by MPC on Nov 2, 2010 4:06 pm • linkreport

No irony in that, Chuck. Ours is a culture, too, you know.

by Glenn on Nov 2, 2010 4:07 pm • linkreport

If I'm not mistaken, voting and election papers are federal and legal in nature (and although DC doesn't vote Congressionally, it's still under Federal auspices), and all federal and legal documents must be in English.

by Phil on Nov 2, 2010 4:14 pm • linkreport

I've always been curious about offering ballots in US elections in foreign languages. According to the rules for naturalized citizenship, the applicant is required to display an ability to read, write and speak ordinary English. I would think that if you could satisfy this requirement, you could read a ballot.

by ksu499 on Nov 2, 2010 4:17 pm • linkreport

So where does it end then? If you're born here and can't learn freaking English after 18 years, then honestly you're probably too dumb to make an informed vote anyway.

Hmmm. Well, I'd prefer a rational human being whose English isn't fluent than some of the fucking imbiciles who don't believe in, say, Evolution. Or that "English-speaking" is synonymous with "US Citizen".

Bring back the Poll Tests, I say. Nothing like reviving variations on the most disgusting practices in American history, then getting defensive when folks point out the dissonance.

by oboe on Nov 2, 2010 4:19 pm • linkreport

What's shocking is that this would happen at Bell, in Columbia Heights, in Ward One, where a substantial portion of the population is Spanish-speaking. Shame on those poll workers, and the BoEE, for being unprepared for this obvious eventuality. Whatever the legal requirements, there should have been someone on hand to assist voters with limited English capability.

Our (Mount Pleasant) ANC and PSA meetings are accessible to Spanish speakers, with either simultaneous (ANC) or sequential (PSA) interpretation. In this part of the District, that's essential, and marvelous, too.

by Jack on Nov 2, 2010 4:26 pm • linkreport

Essential? Marvelous?
Jack, is your last name Ass?

by anon on Nov 2, 2010 4:39 pm • linkreport

As far as I'm concerned NO special arrangements should be made for non-english speakers trying to vote. Naturalization SHOULD include the ability to read, write and speak english. If you want to be a citizen of this country and participate in the voting process, then learn the language or stay in your country of origin. If I'm alive in 100 years and you've gotten your way through intimidation and political correctness, and I want to vote, I guess I will have had to learn spanish to participate in the process. Until then learn the language or don't try to be part of the process.

by Major_Dad on Nov 2, 2010 4:41 pm • linkreport

It is the VOTER'S responsibility to know what is on the ballot BEFORE they go to vote. This is not difficult to find out. There are plenty of resources, in multiple languages, in print, TV, radio, online and at multiple locations. Exercise some personal responsiblity and familiarize yourself with issues. Nobody should ever blindly vote party lines - find out the issues before hand and decide based on merit, then if you want to vote an entirely red or blue ticket, do so. Or is that too hard? Come on people, if you can't take personal responsibility for something as important as your vote, then you should NOT be voting. Stop waiting for someone to hold your hand. If you don't, you're disrespecting those who gave their lives for this country so that you could vote.

by DS on Nov 2, 2010 4:48 pm • linkreport

I agree with the majority of the commenters thus far. If you're a naturalized citizen, you're required to learn/understand English as part of the citizenship process. If you were born here and you don't understand English, I mark that as a sign of laziness and we should be under NO obligation to provide voting materials in a non-English language.

For over 200 years, people emigrated here from all over the world, and to participate in the process, they learned English. And participated quite well as a result. Why should we expect anything less from today's generation?

by Froggie on Nov 2, 2010 4:53 pm • linkreport

I'm sorry, but if you don't understand the native language well enough to vote, how can you really understand the issues being voted on and be a well-informed voter? I wouldn't expect to have an English ballot in another country, just as I don't understand the need for multi-lingual ballots in the U.S.

by LM on Nov 2, 2010 4:57 pm • linkreport

If you're going to vote in the US, you should know Cherokee, Delaware, and Algonquin, among other languages.

This makes absolutely no sense.

by Vicente Fox on Nov 2, 2010 4:58 pm • linkreport

Oh I forgot, the methods by which we find out about candidates and issues are only available IN ENGLISH, right?

Just because you can't speak English doesn't mean you can't be an informed voter. And it doesn't matter if you're an informed voter - we don't make that requirement of anyone.

Oboe nailed the basic ridiculousness of many of the commenters here. I'm really surprised that in DC of all places people are yelling "SPEAK ENGLISH!"

by MLD on Nov 2, 2010 5:01 pm • linkreport

Wow. In spite of all the finger wagging, the issue here is not laziness, foreigners' ignorance, or lack of personal responsbility. It is a matter of statute. The voter assistance materials are requried under law. End of story.

by aaa on Nov 2, 2010 5:01 pm • linkreport

On one hand, I don't think we should allow ourselves to be too divided on this issue, provided that all US citizens are allowed the opportunity to vote, on the other hand, I don't think hyperbole is necessary. I don't think mandating that people have some sort of rudimentary understanding of English in writing is too much to ask.

by Vik on Nov 2, 2010 5:02 pm • linkreport

If you want to be a citizen of this country and participate in the voting process, then learn the language or stay in your country of origin. If I'm alive in 100 years and you've gotten your way through intimidation and political correctness, and I want to vote, I guess I will have had to learn spanish to participate in the process.

This is a common misconception. There is no "the language".

If I'm alive in 100 years and you've gotten your way through intimidation and political correctness, and I want to vote...

And this just smacks of self-pitying whinging, and the politics of victimhood and resentment.

by oboe on Nov 2, 2010 5:21 pm • linkreport

"Bring back the Poll Tests, I say."

This could actually be beneficial - anyone educated by Professor Beck would inevitably fail. If only because they can't accurately define "socialism."

by dcd on Nov 2, 2010 5:32 pm • linkreport

Good Lord. That's about as blatant a violation of Federal voting law as you can get without asking someone who their grandfather was. In DC of all places, how can someone not know that Federal law goes into great detail about how literacy in English is not a prerequisite for voting?

by tom veil on Nov 2, 2010 5:37 pm • linkreport

People definitely *should* learn English (just as those who came to this country 100 years ago had to learn it) but at the same time, voting is a right held by all citizens of eligible age, regardless of English proficiency. I'm sure there are plenty of English speakers who don't know a lick about any of the candidates they are voting for or may be otherwise uninformed. And these people have more of a right to vote simply because they speak English? Bollocks.

That said, I think there should be voter eligibility exams like there are exams to become a legal citizen, but those exams ought be available in as many languages as is feasible.

by Scoot on Nov 2, 2010 6:03 pm • linkreport

To all those chirping about the English test when becoming a citizen, you are terribly misinformed.

1.) There are multiple exceptions which allow someone to skip this altogether if they are of a certain age and have been in the country for a certain period of time.

2.) The test itself is incredibly simple and does not imply a fluency in English, just a familiarity with it.

That's not to mention that the test also includes a civics component that most US citizens would probably fail, but we don't see anybody asking that we require people have knowledge of civics.

Nobody is asking for polling materials to be available in Klingon, but if a sizable minority is present in an area there's no reason we shouldn't make every effort to ensure easy and effective voting for those people.

by Jim on Nov 2, 2010 6:05 pm • linkreport

http://www.justice.gov/crt/voting/sec_203/activ_203.php

The requirements of the law are straightforward: all election information that is available in English must also be available in the minority language so that all citizens will have an effective opportunity to register, learn the details of the elections, and cast a free and effective ballot.

by Alex B. on Nov 2, 2010 7:05 pm • linkreport

If you want to be a citizen of this country and participate in the voting process, then learn the language or stay in your country of origin.

Does this mean Alaska needs to send the Yu'piks or Inupiats or Aleuts back across the Bering Straits to Siberia? Or do they get to send the Anglo-Alaskans to the Lower 48?

(Approximately one Alaskan in twenty speaks an Alaskan Native dialect at home, and it's not unusual for some of the older ones in particular to not speak English well as a second language. I'm told there's even a remote area dominated by Old Believers where English hasn't quite displaced Russian as the preferred Indo-European language.)

by cminus on Nov 2, 2010 7:54 pm • linkreport

It's amazing how many people forget about Puerto Rico.

"So where does it end then? If you're born here and can't learn freaking English after 18 years, then honestly you're probably too dumb to make an informed vote anyway."

So you're born in america, as an american citizen, you go to public school for 18 years, where spanish is the language taught, and you fill out your passport application in Spanish, and then move to Maryland and vote.

I guess you're an idiot if you dont speak english right?

I say the idiocy comes from those who dont understand geography or history.

by JJJJ on Nov 2, 2010 8:11 pm • linkreport

I want some of you who think its so easy to learn a new language to move to Russia at age 47, and have a full grasp of the russian language in 10 years. Note: you cant hire a private tutor or go to a russian language class because you're too busy trying to make ends meet. You have no access to a program like Rosetta Stone because youve never used a computer.

Good luck.

by JJJJ on Nov 2, 2010 8:14 pm • linkreport

Paco, no seas ingenuo. Hay ciudadanos naturalizados de Estados Unidos que no pueden aprender el idioma mayoritario de este pais tan facilmente, pero ellos tienen el derecho de votar, por lo tanto deben haber alternativas disponibles. Nadie pierde nada con eso. Sobretodo en el distrito de D.C. donde viven mas Latinos.

Paco, don't be naive. There are naturalized U.S. citizens that can't learn the majoritarian language of this country as easily as others, but they have the right of vote, therefore there should be alternative ways available. No one loses anything with that. Especially in the DC Ward where most Latinos live.

by Carlos in DC on Nov 2, 2010 10:20 pm • linkreport

As far as I am concerned:
USA does not have an official language, which it means that nobody is forced to know it. It also means that in any given time any other language could actually surpass English.

While living overseas, in Spain, everybody helped me get through since I did not speak Spanish, they made everywhere (restaurants,hospitals, Court House) a point to speak English to me,never demanded me to learn it.
But of course, Europeans are more open minded that we are...

by mar on Nov 2, 2010 10:55 pm • linkreport

@Froggie Why should we expect anything less from today's generation?

It's not correct to generalize the problem as being with 'today's generation'. Nearly all immigrants from all lands that immigrate here learn English ... as they always have. The problem is with some Spanish speakers ... not all but some. And I'd guess the issue has more to do with our nation's proximity to nations where Spanish is the official language than any other reason. AND the fact aht much of the US once was a Spanish speaking area. There was a time when much of our southwest was part of the Spanish Empire and then a part of the independent Mexico. But English speaking people of the US states emigrated there (into Texas and California), and they slowly established their own English-speaking communities ... which eventually led to independence and eventual re-alignment with the US. The opposite is occurring now. No judgement call on my part whether that is good or bad, but we should realize that 'language' in this case is just a 'marker' ... the tip of the real issue ... which is the elephant in the room which goes undiscussed ... i.e., 'culture'.

by Lance on Nov 3, 2010 12:07 am • linkreport

While the US has no official language, it does use English as de facto at the federal level; it is also the de facto language of the District of Columbia as a result. That means that the government in theory only needs to provide voting materials in English. Any law that claims otherwise is contradictory.

by Phil on Nov 3, 2010 2:04 am • linkreport

Even though those voters do not speak English (not out of laziness but out circumstances,i.e doing tough labor that does not require them to speak English, taking care of the kids at home so that they are well attended) I am sure that they love this country and encourage their children to learn English (which they probably do in school)
To demonize, to make things difficult for a person that probably does not have the opportunity, the time or the money to learn English, is just not right.
I had a grandma that learned English through her kids, because she was an Italian mama that took care of all her children while her husband worked his butt off mining.
She did not have time, opportunity or money to learn English, but she contributed to society by raising four fine young men, hard working Americans.
That Hispanic woman, was probably the same: a caring mother or an overworked, underpaid employee, with no time to go to school.

by mar on Nov 3, 2010 2:39 am • linkreport

@mar: "While living overseas, in Spain, everybody helped me get through since I did not speak Spanish..., they made everywhere (restaurants...) a point to speak English to me,never demanded me to learn it."

It's a bit baffling why you would be living somewhere but not grasp basic conversation like ordering in a restaurant?

"But of course, Europeans are more open minded that we are..."

I'd bet that you were either a student or a very short term resident, and the Spanish knew that and thus excused your lack of knowledge of their culture.

Had you been a permanent resident, you would have been expected to learn Spanish. That's common throughout Europe (France expects Algerian immigrants to speak French, Germany expects that Turks learn German, etc).

Regarding the article, it is a shame that since the DC Government provides voting information in Spanish, that it doesn't have the capacity to distribute it to those in need. Yet again, DC Government gets a big fail.

by mch on Nov 3, 2010 5:28 am • linkreport

Lance wrote, in part:

[...] And I'd guess the issue has more to do with our nation's proximity to nations where Spanish is the official language than any other reason. AND the fact aht much of the US once was a Spanish speaking area. There was a time when much of our southwest was part of the Spanish Empire and then a part of the independent Mexico.[...]

In the interests of clarity and accuracy, there was never a time before the modern time when any significant area of now part of the US was a "Spanish-speaking area". Indeed, the parts of the country mentioned are barely English-speaking even in the modern day, simply because so much of that truly vast area is uninhabitable, or nearly uninhabitable.

With the exception of some rather small colonial outposts, Spanish-speakers never held much land other than in territorial claims. Actual possession and control of these areas was by, if anyone at all, the indigenous. Most of Texas was pretty well controlled by the Comanche, any parts of Arizona that were habitable tended to be controlled by one or another native nation at large, such as Navajo, Apache, Hopi, Ute, etc., with vast territories of wasteland being home to relatively few and widely-scattered people. Yet, then as now, Spanish was used throughout much of this region as a trade language. The indigenous had a very widespread and adaptable trade language based on sign and gesture, but it was easier for most of the indigenous to learn Spanish than for the Europeans to learn the sign language.

All of this being said, the law is the law, and in the same way that illegal aliens ought to be deported whether you like it or not, speakers of a widespread minority language should be presented with voting materials in their language, whether you like it or not..

Just don't even get me started on the rather touchy subject of why ballots aren't printed up in German in areas where Amish or other German-speakers are a significant minority. Oh wait, that's right, they're Americans and regardless of what language they speak at home, they are conversant in English because that's how it's done here.

by Thomas Hardman on Nov 3, 2010 7:45 am • linkreport

@mch
You would lose your bet, I was not there as a student, I was there "defending your country" so you might as well figured out that I was stationed there, for quite a few years, and of course finally I learned some Spanish , but I had the opportunity of flexible, free classes on Base.
The Algerians usually already speak French, because Algeria as Morocco was a French colony,most Turks when they arrive to Germany it takes them years to learn German.
(Let me give you a hint: When Mrs Merkel and Mr Sarkozy talk about immigrants learning the language and accepting the country's cultural norms they are referring to a type of "recent" immigrant that refuse to send their kid to public school and integrate as a westerner, I will stop here.

European Union citizens living in Spain have the right to vote in some of the Spanish elections
The Germans that live permanently in sunny Mallorca, do not usually speak Spanish, the British "colony" that live in Costa del Sol, don't speak Spanish most of the time, and I am not talking of some tourists, I am talking of millions of them (do some research, you might be surprised)and do keep in mind that Spanish is the official language of Spain, by law everybody has "the duty to know it and the right to use it" as it says in their Constitution.

by mar on Nov 3, 2010 8:16 am • linkreport

@Thomas Harden
Amish usually don't vote, they usually do not register so there is no need to print nothing in German (for know) and unfortunately, they do not make up such a great percentage of the population. Please use another example.
However as you said "the law is the law" and as Alex B stated earlier:
"The requirements of the law are straightforward: all election information that is available in English must also be available in the minority language so that all citizens will have an effective opportunity to register, learn the details of the elections, and cast a free and effective ballot"

If somebody do not like it, they should write their Congressman.

by mar on Nov 3, 2010 8:34 am • linkreport

When Mrs Merkel and Mr Sarkozy talk about immigrants learning the language and accepting the country's cultural norms they are referring to a type of "recent" immigrant that refuse to send their kid to public school and integrate as a westerner, I will stop here.

Those cultural norms include a democratic tradition with the 'rights of man (and woman)' that took centuries to develop to the advanced level they currently exist at. I'd be worried too if suddenly we had a large influx of people who thought it was okay to deny many of these rights, including the rights of women as equal residents. There's nothing wrong in protecting a nation's values. That's what we call assimilation here. It doesn't mean the new immigrant can't bring their ideas and rich culture, but it means the welcome mat stops where the advanced ideas of democracy are not respected.

by Lance on Nov 3, 2010 8:39 am • linkreport

I decided to work the polls in Columbia Heights as a person checking in voters, but because I am fluent in Spanish, much of my time was spent going line by line with Spanish-only speakers over their ballot and/or voter registration. This took on average 20 minutes per voter. If wasn't there, I know lots of the people I helped would have either left, or miss-marked their ballots resulting in a de facto non-vote.

The Problem is, that not enough of DC residents who supposedly care about this issue actually volunteer to come out and work the polls. It's easy to say the city should just "get more interpreters", but few people are willing to work a 16 hour day for only one day...

So people need to put their money where their mouth is!

by Jay'O on Nov 3, 2010 8:48 am • linkreport

One thing I forgot to mention above... While working the polls, I didn't see much Spanish language materials available at out polling location. There was a giant Spanish language instruction sheet on the wall, but that was it.

The unspoken issue here is literacy!

Mnay of the older folks who wanted to vote told me (in Spanish) that they couldn't read - (in English or Spanish). So when other poll workers directed them to the large spanish language instruction sheet, they still couldn't understant it.

While I firmly believe the right to vote trumps the obligation to be able to read, it was sad since many of the people I helped seemed to vote randomly.

Of course this is not to say than Americans (often frustrarted ones) without any language problems still just randomly vote for people on the ballot!

by Jay'O on Nov 3, 2010 9:11 am • linkreport

Just wanted to share this information regarding Spanish-language ballots I got from the Pew Center:

D.C. is not covered by language provision of the Voting Rights Act. That may change after the Census, but for this election, they are not required to provide information in Spanish. The covered areas are (and for the DOJ, they lump D.C. in as if it were state) listed here and this was last done in 2002 after the 2000 Census. And itÂ’s not all counties in the states covered. For instance only Montgomery County is covered in Maryland.

http://www.justice.gov/crt/voting/sec_203/fedreg_July.php

by Lynda on Nov 3, 2010 9:16 am • linkreport

#1 - Immigrants should learn English if they live in the US. That's not cultural imperialism; that's just basic common sense.

#2 - Poll workers generally are not exactly known for their legal acumen and deep knowledge of election laws.

#3 - Although Ward 1 has the highest number of Spanish-speakers in the city, I think it's safe to say the vast majority of them are not registered voters, either because they are here illegally or because they just don't vote.

by Fritz on Nov 3, 2010 9:29 am • linkreport

"Although Ward 1 has the highest number of Spanish-speakers in the city, I think it's safe to say the vast majority of them are not registered voters, either because they are here illegally or because they just don't vote."

I think you left out the category of "they are here legally but not citizens."

by Phil on Nov 3, 2010 9:56 am • linkreport

#1 - Immigrants should learn English if they live in the US. That's not cultural imperialism; that's just basic common sense.

It's a common misperception by many "nativist" types that somehow immigrants don't know this. You're right; it is "common sense". And I don't know of a single Spanish-speaking immigrant that doesn't "get" this.

Of course, the point we're debating is whether fluency in English should be a prerequisite to the vote. Still haven't seen anything here that addresses that question.

by oboe on Nov 3, 2010 10:07 am • linkreport

I don't think you need to be "fluent" in English. But you do need to understand the basics. There isn't much involved in voting other than knowing how to read a sign, check-in at the intake desk, and vote for your respective candidate.

This requires only a basic understanding of the language and those who don't understand, should be responsible and find out what they need to know before entering the precint.

Like, what charter were we voting for or against.

by HogWash on Nov 3, 2010 10:44 am • linkreport

"While living overseas, in Spain, everybody helped me get through since I did not speak Spanish..., they made everywhere (restaurants...) a point to speak English to me,never demanded me to learn it. But of course, Europeans are more open minded that we are..."

When it comes to language, the Europeans are much more closed-minded than we are, especially the French and the Spanish. That people conversed with you in English was not out of open-mindedness, but more likely out of pity that you would have been unable to communicate with anyone given your circumstances. Contrast that to America, which is all-too-eager to accomodate non-English speakers by law and in practice by printing virtually everything from insurance policies to bags of Doritos in English and Spanish.

by Scoot on Nov 3, 2010 11:01 am • linkreport

@Scoot

I think you have never been in Spain or France.
Otherwise you wouldn't dare to say that, you would have seen it in the moment you arrived at the airport, everything in 3 or 4 different languages.

by mar on Nov 3, 2010 11:18 am • linkreport

@Scoot bs. My experience in Western Europe is that even in countries where I know the language and WANT to use it I am often answered in English (yes, humiliating) because the person I'm speaking to wants to practice his/her English with a native speaker. Occassionally I'm rewarded with the person asking me in his/her native language "Where are you from?" meaning s/he didn't immediately know from my speech that American English is my language! Yes!

by Tina on Nov 3, 2010 11:35 am • linkreport

@Other Phil

I think you left out the category of "they are here legally but not citizens."

Then they aren't legally allowed to vote, as it is a privilege conferred only to citizens. The fact that anyone would knowingly vote even if they have no legal right to do so is shocking.

by Phil on Nov 3, 2010 11:39 am • linkreport

That's not what Other Phil was saying. He was just pointing out that when Fritz noted that most Spanish-speakers aren't voters, Fritz said they are either undocumented or don't bother to vote. But there's a 3rd, perhaps larger category, legal immigrants not eligible to vote.

There are a lot of legal immigrants in this country. Almost all of our ancestors were legal immigrants as well. Anti-immigrant hysteria often forgets this fact.

by David Alpert on Nov 3, 2010 11:46 am • linkreport

If you are going to vote in the US, you should know English.

Conversely, if we are going to collect taxes from you, you should know English.

by "Take an Indian to Lunch" on Nov 3, 2010 12:44 pm • linkreport

@ Mar

I did live in France, I also spent time in Spain. I c

@ Tina

I had that experience as well :) but I also had the unpleasant experience of being teased for not having a commanding grasp of French while shopping at the grocery. And my French was not bad by most standards. But when I was in France, it was a different time for America, so maybe that played into it. I would sometimes tell people I was Canadian or from the UK if they asked. :-/

by Scoot on Nov 3, 2010 2:41 pm • linkreport

@Mar: If you were stationed in Spain, you were not actually a legal resident of Spain, as bases are considered extraterritorial. Even if you lived off base, you were not a legal resident in the same way as someone with a job in the Spanish economy would be. The comparison is not equal.

Secondly, one of the biggest annoyances of Germans regarding Americans is that deployed military prior to the 90s rarely made any effort to learn German or to speak to people in their own language in their own country. Those of us who made the effort to speak German were well rewarded with a far deeper understanding of how things worked and of relationships with people.

If you move to another country, you need to learn the language. If you can't or choose not to, you should have someone who is always there for you. In every country I have lived in this is the norm for expatriates, and no one has an ounce of respect for the people who make little effort not to learn the language of the country in which they reside. You should be able to manage the basics. My hometown in over 25% recent immigrants and people learn the language. I speak 4 languages, and if I moved to another country, I would make every effort to learn that language.

Spanish speakers in America are in an odd place, given that there are many Spanish speakers who were residents of the United States prior to being absorbed into the nation. That said, it's not a stretch to say that progress into well-being requires learning the language in use by the majority of the population. Dead end jobs are the home of those who don't learn that language, be it Germany, the US, or any other country.

by copperred on Nov 3, 2010 3:37 pm • linkreport

More than likely the original person who made the complaint is in the right, given what the law says. DC should abide by it, although I'm sure we will end up spending money on translators and that will cause even more consternation to some.

The concern, and it is quite valid, is whether someone who doesn't have functional literacy in English can function in our collective society. We have many people who should be function English speaking/comprehending but who are not due to our poor education system, who are also locked into the same dead end jobs, or who are unemployed because of it.

A citizen should both strive to understand and be understood, but it is not a one way street. We ask many things of a citizen we do not of a non-citizen. Whether it is a requirement to be functionally literate in the majority language appears to be a point of contention.

by copperred on Nov 3, 2010 3:47 pm • linkreport

I'm thrilled that the non-english speaker was motivated enough to put up with that to participate in the democratic process. I'm also bummed (but not surprised) that the poll site didn't have appropriate staff with appropriate training and patience to act courteiously (I had a similarly rude experience myself while voting).

BUT--That all does not excuse citizens from having at least a basic ability to communicate in English. There aren't that many words that need to be exchanged in the voting process--it strikes me as odd that the person could be so ill-prepared to speak English but still be well-informed enough to know who she's voting for, since likely all the candidates are English speakers with campaigns that were primarily in English.

Before I'm labeled as insensitive, I recognize all of the plethera of reasons this person didn't speak English sufficiently. And I'm all in favor of eliminating those barriers by providing (at no cost) English instruction to adults in the community. I think it is an individual's responsibility (ultimately) to be able to communicate in the default language of this country though, and I hope this experience encourages the person to work toward learning at least the basic English words and phrases...

by Matt on Nov 5, 2010 12:05 pm • linkreport

I'd be MUCH MORE concerned that voters in Precinct 141, at the Reeves Center, were frisked and forced to empty their pockets and purses and wait in long lines to get through security to enter the building to vote.

If early voters are Judiciary Square could be permitted access to that secure building through a second door without having to go through security, why wasn't that the case at 14th and U? And what law gives the private security guards at the Reeves Center the right to inspect voters' personal belongings, confiscate things like tweezers, and deny registered voters the right to enter a building to vote?

by Mike S. on Nov 5, 2010 7:05 pm • linkreport

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