Don’t Know English? No Problem!

Did you know that, under the 1965 federal Voting Rights Act, parts of nine Mississippi counties have been required to furnish ballots in the Choctaw language?

I was reminded of this when I came across this story about a federal judge ordering language assistance for Alaskan Natives whose language is Yup’ik:

“The ruling requires the state to provide language assistance, including trained poll workers who are bilingual in English and Yup’ik. Sample ballots will have to be written in Yup’ik. A glossary of election terms also written in Yup’ik will have to be provided.”

How did Alaska come under the Voting Rights Act in the first place?

When the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson was drafting the bill, it was decided that any jurisdiction would be covered (1) which had a literacy test for voter registrants and (2) where less than 50 percent of the eligible voters had participated in the November 1964 election. The administration’s trigger sprang on Alaska, not because of racial discrimination but due to cold weather and geographical isolation.

In November 1974, in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, the Democrats added considerably to their majorities in both houses of Congress. In 1975, that Congress added Section 203– “language assistance”– to the Voting Rights Act, and that section now applies to parts of some 31 states. American Indians, Alaskan Natives, Asian Americans, and Latino Americans are covered.

The Democrats evidently figured that citizens who were not proficient in English would vote overwhelmingly Democratic.

The city of Los Angeles alone has to provide ballots in six or seven different languages. Imagine the additional expense!

The Mississippi counties that are “active” for the Choctaw ballots are Jones, Kemper, Leake, Neshoba, Newton, and Winston. Attala, Jackson, and Scott counties are “nonactive.”

It’s incredible that, despite living here all their lives, certain people cannot comprehend English well enough to read a ballot written in English. Perhaps the Choctaws need to take some of their casino profits and set up remedial English classes.

The government furnishing ballots in languages other than English, to be sure, lessens the incentive for those people to learn English.

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