House GOP Group Targets Bilingual Ballots

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun May 7 13:00:12 UTC 2006,0,1094943.story?coll=la-story-footer

>>From the Los Angeles Times

House GOP Group Targets Bilingual Ballots:  The 56 lawmakers want to let
language assistance provisions in the Voting Rights Act expire.

By Nicole Gaouette
Times Staff Writer

May 6, 2006

WASHINGTON A group of House Republicans wants to do away with bilingual
ballots and translation assistance at the polls, a reflection of how
tensions over immigration are pervading other issues. As Congress readies
to reauthorize the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the lawmakers are lobbying
their colleagues to let the act's language assistance provisions expire.
The 56 lawmakers support the act, but say the language assistance to
voters provided throughout much of California undermines national unity,
increases the risk of election fraud, and puts an undue burden on state
and local governments. "We believe these ballot provisions encourage the
linguistic division of our nation and contradict the 'melting pot' ideal
that has made us the most successful multiethnic nation on Earth," the
members said in a letter earlier this year.

The group's effort is not likely to succeed, in part because of other
Republicans' concerns that it could further offend Latino voters upset by
the enforcement-only immigration legislation the House passed in December.
Policy analysts said the focus on bilingual ballots illustrated a
hardening of positions within the GOP as the debate on illegal immigration
evolved. "It's reflective of the broader divide in the Republican Party on
the immigration issue and related cultural questions," said Marshall
Wittmann, a former GOP Senate aide who is a senior fellow at the
Democratic Leadership Council. "This division is now being reflected in
collateral issues, like the Voting Rights Act," Wittmann added.

Under President Bush, the GOP has emphasized courting Latino voters. But
many Republican lawmakers also have spotlighted illegal immigration as a
key concern, arguing that the continuing flow of illegal immigrants into
the U.S. is culturally transforming the nation and must be stemmed. Such
attitudes led to the passage of the House bill that would significantly
upgrade border security, make illegal presence in the U.S. a felony, and
make aiding illegal immigrants a felony. Bush is urging Congress to pass a
bill that, along with beefed-up border security, includes a guest worker
program and some legalization measures for illegal immigrants. He also is
encouraging immigrants to learn English a response to a controversial
Spanish-language version of the national anthem. The Senate and House are
to conduct committee hearings next week on reauthorizing the Voting Rights
Act. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), prime sponsor of letting the language
assistance provision expire, plans to submit his proposal as an amendment
in the House Judiciary Committee next week.

The Voting Rights Act was designed to prevent discrimination from
interfering with citizens' ability to vote. When the act was extended in
1975, Congress added the section that requires some jurisdictions to
provide bilingual ballots and translators. Currently, 466 jurisdictions in
31 states provide these services on election day. Twenty-five California
counties qualify, including Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, San Francisco,
Santa Barbara and Santa Clara. King dismissed suggestions that his
proposal could hurt the GOP among the nation's growing numbers of Latino
voters. "We're talking about public policy, and I would like to think the
Hispanics in this country respect American values in the same way," said
King, who has long backed efforts to make English the United States'
official language.

Six GOP California House members signed the letter detailing King's
proposal: Gary G. Miller of Diamond Bar, Ed Royce of Fullerton, Dana
Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach, Ken Calvert of Corona, John T. Doolittle
of Roseville and John Campbell of Irvine. The proposal's backers say that
U.S.-born or naturalized citizens should know enough English to vote,
particularly because a command of the language is a requirement for
citizenship. "In all the talk now about immigration, there seems to be a
very broad consensus that people who want to become citizens should read,
write and speak English," Campbell said. King said another provision of
the Voting Rights Act allows voters who need help, including translation,
to bring someone with them.

But Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), the main author of the
enforcement-only House immigration bill, staunchly defended the language
assistance provision in the Voting Rights Act. "If [immigrants] want to
achieve the American dream, they better learn how to read and function in
English," Sensenbrenner said. "But this deals with the right to vote, and
these people are United States citizens; they are not illegal immigrants.
It seems to me these people should not be confused because they don't have
the proper instruction about how to vote on ballots for the candidates of
their choice." Caroline Fredrickson, an official with the American Civil
Liberties Union in Washington, said the language assistance provision had
"worked phenomenally well in allowing people with limited English
proficiency to participate in our democratic process. There has been a
remarkable growth in voting participation in areas that have been

King and his group say bilingual ballots cause election errors. They cited
a 2000 case in Flushing, N.Y., where ballots printed in Chinese
misidentified the political affiliations of some candidates. They also
allege that bilingual ballots can make it easier for illegal immigrants to
fraudulently vote.,0,1094943.story?coll=la-story-footer

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