As voting rights and voter suppression have become hot topics in Washington, the lack of multilingual ballots in some parts of the US is a cause for concern.
Spanish and other non-English ballots are not required across the nation, although some advocates say they are critical for democracy, “We need to have bilingual ballots, bilingual material across the country, it should be a national requirement and a national norm,” Domingo Garcia, the national president for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), told ABC News.
According to a study conducted by the City University of New York, only 10.6% of Latinos voted in the 2020 elections and one of the reasons behind this poor turnout may be the language barrier.
“When we look at the language barrier, it is voter suppression, right? It is discriminatory against eligible citizens who … have the right to access ballots,” said LULAC chief executive director Sindy Benavides, who added that besides ballots other voting resources were needed, such as interpreters, bilingual ballot directors, and flyers that can influence voter turnout.
“The requirements are very straightforward. … All election information that is available in English must also be available in the minority language so that all citizens have the opportunity to register and to participate in elections and be able to cast a free and effective ballot,” said Benavides. “We know that language barrier is directly tied to low voter turnout.”
Nationwide, only 331 U.S. jurisdictions are required by law to offer language assistance to specific groups. That equates to only 4.1% of the 2,920 counties and 5,120 minor civil divisions that constitute the political subdivisions in U.S. Section 203 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. According to U.S. Section 203, if over 5% of a township or county’s voting-age citizens are limited in English proficiency they need to be covered by language provisions within the Voting Rights Act.
“In our own backyard, across the entire United States—Ohio, Utah, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, you name it—we are touching every single state and one fact that is true, is that the Latino community will continue to grow for decades to come,” said Benavides.
In Georgia, the number of Latino registered voters grew by 57.7% in the four years from 2016 to 2020, but Spanish ballots are not widely available, even in Hall County, where 28% of all residents are Hispanic, according to Census data.