A Vote For English?

Rick Hasen blogs on a stunningly misinformed column by George Will, where he argues against multilingual ballots.

I’ll add just a few comments to Hasen’s excellent posting.

First, Will cannot have voted in states such as Oregon, California, or Washington, where the ballot contains long and elaborate initiatives and referenda that are difficult to understand even in English. The requirements for citizenship are to: “demonstrate an understanding of the English language, including an ability to read, write, and speak words in ordinary usage in the English language.” Do any Californians out there want to argue that was often constitutes the ballot reflects “ordinary usage”?

Relatedly, Will cannot have seen the voters pamphlets in Oregon or California. These documents are often hundreds of pages long, and also do not constitute “ordinary” English language usage.

In both cases, requiring English only materials will shut off innumerable legal voters from the ballot box.

But let’s take Will at his word: he wants to restrict the franchise to those who can demonstrate “…ability to understand the nation’s civic conversation” and who “can comprehend the political discourse that precedes the casting of ballots.”

Will seems to be suggesting a political knowledge test as a requirement for voting. Will must be aware that well over half of Americans cannot recall the name of the member of Congress; that over three-quarters don’t know the job of Chief Justice John Roberts; and that less than one-fifth have a good sense of the meaning of “liberal” or “conservative.”

Sounds like a call for philosopher kings to me!