Multilinguall Ballot Provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
The Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 was originally enacted to prohibit state and local governments from denying or abridging the right to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” a right guaranteed by the 15th Amendment. It applied to political jurisdictions with a history of denying such rights to black Americans and was specifically aimed at removing barriers to voter registration. It was intended to be a temporary remedy.
But in 1975 Congress greatly expanded the Voting Rights Act’s original intent by inserting special protections for “language minorities.” The language minorities singled out for protection under Section 203 of the Act were: American Indians, Asian Americans, Alaskan Natives, and citizens of Spanish Heritage. For the first time in our history, states and counties with substantial populations of these protected language minorities were required to provide ballot and election materials in languages other than English.
Although the bilingual ballot provisions like other parts of the VRA were originally intended to be temporary remedies, they were renewed in 1982, and again in 1992 when Congress voted to extend all the temporary provisions of the Act. Unless Congress extends them again, they will expire in August 2007.
Sec. 203 of the VRA states that if a covered jurisdiction “provides registration or voting notices, forms, instructions, assistance, or other materials of information relating to the electoral process, including ballots, it shall provide them in the language of the applicable minority group as well as in the English language (VRA).”
A jurisdiction is covered under Sec. 203 if the number of U.S. citizens of voting age and of a single language minority group is:
- 10,000 or more; or
- More than five percent of all voting age citizens in that jurisdiction
The language assistance requirements of Sec. 203 are triggered if either condition is met.
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