Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

Romney, Gingrich Want to Disenfranchise Millions of Voters by Scrapping Bilingual Ballots

GOP presidential frontrunners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich both favor ending bilingual ballots, a move that would disenfranchise millions of potential voters across the country.

Mother Jones reports that both leading candidates expressed support for scrapping bilingual ballots, which under the 1975 revision of the Voting Rights Act must be provided to voters in communities where non-English speakers constitute a sizable segment of the population. There are 238 jurisdictions covered by these language requirements. Census estimates place the number of voters that could be disenfranchises if bilingual ballots are eliminated at 19 million.

As Republican primary voters head to the ballot in Florida today, it is worth noting that ten counties in the Sunshine State fall under the Voting Rights Act language requirements; six of those counties went to Democrats in the 2008 presidential election.

“I would have ballots in [only] English,” Gingrich said at last week’s NBC News Florida debate. “I think Speaker Gingrich is right,” Romney concurred.

The current GOP frontrunners’ position varies markedly from that of the last Republican president, George W. Bush, whose administration filed more ballot access cases  on behalf of non-English speakers than any other administration in history.

Bilingual ballots are an essential part of Florida elections, and the prospect of their elimination has alarmed many people in the multi-ethnic state. “We used to have poll taxes, we used to have whites-only primaries, we used to not let women vote,” Myrna Perez, senior counsel with the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, told Mother Jones. “Policies that would make our ballots less accessible to Americans based on what language they speak would be at odds with that historical arc towards expanding the franchise.”

“Some of these ballot measures involve very complex legal language,” Camila Gallardo of the National Council of La Raza told Mother Jones. “Some of the language is hard to understand even for fluent English speakers, let alone if your first language isn’t English.”

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the candidates’ desire to do away with bilingual ballots is politically motivated. In Florida, for example, the large Cuban population centered around Miami votes overwhelmingly Republican, while Puerto Ricans tend to vote Democrat. But Cubans are mostly bilingual, fluent in both English and Spanish, while Puerto Ricans are more likely to speak only Spanish. Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens, are often first-generation immigrants to the mainland U.S. and often don’t speak English since the primary language of the island territory is Spanish. Nationwide, Latinos tend to vote Democrat. Disenfranchising as many of them as possible would very likely benefit Republican candidates.

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One Comment

  1. LindseyBDiannaJanuary 31, 2012 at 4:00 pmReply

    ggggggggggrh.

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