Thursday, April 18, 2013

Florida Republicans Push Legislation Targeting Non-English Speaking Voters

Non-English speakers could soon find it more difficult to cast a ballot in Florida, despite federal protections for those citizens who speak another language.

Federal law requires voting officials to permit voters who are unable to read the ballot to be assisted by a person of their choice. In Florida, which has large swaths of non-native English speakers, this measure is critical in protecting every citizen’s voting rights. However, those protections could be tested after Republican state senators in Florida inserted language in an elections bill to prevent private interpreters from helping citizens who cannot fully understand English.

The Miami Herald has more:

The architect of the new elections bill, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, said his measure would not ban interpreters, but would limit those who use foreign-language speakers for partisan ends. . . . “What it does away with,” he said, “is the right of someone to stand outside a polling place and say: ‘I want to go in and help you because I’m here.’ It limits one person being able to do that 10 times a day.”

But that’s a major change, says Braynon and liberal-leaning election-rights groups.

If a person can provide assistance to only 10 people, then certain precincts could have required as many as 50 interpreters during the 2012 elections, Braynon said.

“We had trouble finding five people to help interpret,” he said.

The overarching problem is that for speakers of languages like Creole — like Desiline Victor, the 102-year-old Miami voter who attended the State of the Union speech — there are not enough interpreters available to help, which contributes to the state’s long lines. Private translators, particularly for less prevalent languages, can help alleviate the problem.

Republicans in Florida aren’t the only ones pushing legislation that would impede non-English speaking voters. Last month, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) introduced the English Language Unity Act, which could hinder the printing of non-English ballots as the Voting Rights Act currently requires.

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