VRA Legislation Stopped in House

The renewal of the Voting Rights Act has been stopped in its tracks in the House because of concerns about bilingual ballots. As the Washington Post notes:

But nearly 80 House Republicans signed a letter by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) objecting to the Voting Rights Act’s provisions that require state and local governments to print ballots in foreign languages — or provide interpreters — in precincts showing a need for such services. The requirement is a costly unfunded mandate for many counties and municipalities, the letter said, adding: “The multilingual ballot mandate encourages the linguistic division of our nation and contradicts the ‘Melting Pot’ ideal that has made us the most successful multi-ethnic nation on earth.”

There are two issues here of interest. First, there is a big difference between being bilingual–speaking two languages–and being biliterate–being able to read two languages. This problem is most pronounced for voters from many Asian nations that have symbolic writing and not a Latin alphabet. These individuals may be able to speak and read basic English but still want the comfort of a translation.

Second, having just watched language minority voters cast ballots in Los Angeles in the California primary, I question whether it is beneficial to do away with interpreters. Many of those who I have seen who need interpreters are older voters, many of whom fled Communist nations in Asia to come to America and live the American Dream. Do we really want to take away interpreters from these citizens?