Immigration and Elections | Part 2

In November, we discussed the effect of immigration and immigration policy on America’s elections. We covered the journey from 1850—our first census to consider national origin—to the effect immigration had on the 2020 election.

This time we’ll rewind to 1965 and 1975, arguably the most important years for American immigrants when it comes to voting, then examine their implications today.

New Acts, New Discrimination, New Reforms

In 1965, Congress passed The Immigration and Nationality Act, which removed country quotas and other restrictions. This led to increased immigration from Latin America and Asia. They also passed the Voting Rights Act (VRA), outlawing literacy tests and other Jim Crow policies created to suppress African-American votes.

Ten years later, Congress discovered a need for further reform. Asian and Latin American citizens were encountering wide-ranging discrimination in voting, some systemic, some intentional.

Having been educated in other languages, some immigrants found it difficult to use election materials written in English. Many officials refused to provide translated materials and purged voters from the rolls without a translated notice. In some jurisdictions, election fraud charges were filed against Hispanics who had made errors without intending to break the law. As a result, fewer than half of eligible Hispanics were registered to vote in some areas. In New York
City, investigators found significant intentional voting discrimination against the city’s Puerto Rican population.

This all amounted to a de facto literacy test. Congress amended the VRA to:

  • Prohibit discrimination based on language status
  • Require all election information provided in English to be available in minority languages
  • Allow any voter to receive language assistance in the voting booth from someone they select, so their privacy will be preserved

Not all jurisdictions are required to provide language assistance. Under Section 203 of the VRA, the Census Bureau issues requirements on a regular basis, with well over 200 political units in 29 states currently covered.

Benefits of Language Assistance

Certainly, local governments want to comply with the law. But there are other reasons to lean into providing language services for voters:

  • Better language access for Limited English Proficient (LEP) citizens makes assimilation more common, and immigrants who assimilate tend to use fewer costly government services, drive economic growth, and embrace public service.
  • Language assistance increases minority registration and turnout. San Diego, California, saw a 20% increase in registration among Latinos and Filipinos and a 40% increase among Vietnamese after providing assistance in their languages. After Apache County, Arizona, implemented assistance for Navajo speakers, turnout among them increased by 26%.
  • Language assistance even increases minority representation in elected office and other government posts. By 2006, 5,200 Hispanic and 350 Asian American officials were serving in office in language assistance jurisdictions, a number that continues to increase.
  • Proper language assistance shows a clear effort to give everyone an input in governance.

Best Practices for Government Agencies

All governments should strive to help voters participate in a language they are truly proficient in.
Following these practices will help you include every citizen.

  • Provide assistance even if you don’t have to. Your community will be strengthened if everyone with the right to vote is certain they will be able to use it.
  • If you are covered by Section 203, don’t assume you are in compliance. Review all materials between elections to make sure there are appropriate translations of every item, and that they are as easy to use as possible.
  • Involve qualified translators. Improperly translated materials are not only troublesome for your citizens and staff, they can cause you legal liability. Be sure they have been professionally translated.
  • Be ready to provide interpreters. Though LEP voters usually choose a friend or family member to help them vote, you should retain standby interpreting services to help them in the booth or to ease communication with election workers.

Immigration and Elections | Part 2

In November, we discussed the effect of immigration and immigration policy on America’s elections. We covered the journey from 1850—our first census to consider national origin—to the effect immigration had on the 2020 election.

This time we’ll rewind to 1965 and 1975, arguably the most important years for American immigrants when it comes to voting, then examine their implications today.

New Acts, New Discrimination, New Reforms

In 1965, Congress passed The Immigration and Nationality Act, which removed country quotas and other restrictions. This led to increased immigration from Latin America and Asia. They also passed the Voting Rights Act (VRA), outlawing literacy tests and other Jim Crow policies created to suppress African-American votes.

Ten years later, Congress discovered a need for further reform. Asian and Latin American citizens were encountering wide-ranging discrimination in voting, some systemic, some intentional.

Having been educated in other languages, some immigrants found it difficult to use election materials written in English. Many officials refused to provide translated materials and purged voters from the rolls without a translated notice. In some jurisdictions, election fraud charges were filed against Hispanics who had made errors without intending to break the law. As a result, fewer than half of eligible Hispanics were registered to vote in some areas. In New York
City, investigators found significant intentional voting discrimination against the city’s Puerto Rican population.

This all amounted to a de facto literacy test. Congress amended the VRA to:

  • Prohibit discrimination based on language status
  • Require all election information provided in English to be available in minority languages
  • Allow any voter to receive language assistance in the voting booth from someone they select, so their privacy will be preserved

Not all jurisdictions are required to provide language assistance. Under Section 203 of the VRA, the Census Bureau issues requirements on a regular basis, with well over 200 political units in 29 states currently covered.

Benefits of Language Assistance

Certainly, local governments want to comply with the law. But there are other reasons to lean into providing language services for voters:

  • Better language access for Limited English Proficient (LEP) citizens makes assimilation more common, and immigrants who assimilate tend to use fewer costly government services, drive economic growth, and embrace public service.
  • Language assistance increases minority registration and turnout. San Diego, California, saw a 20% increase in registration among Latinos and Filipinos and a 40% increase among Vietnamese after providing assistance in their languages. After Apache County, Arizona, implemented assistance for Navajo speakers, turnout among them increased by 26%.
  • Language assistance even increases minority representation in elected office and other government posts. By 2006, 5,200 Hispanic and 350 Asian American officials were serving in office in language assistance jurisdictions, a number that continues to increase.
  • Proper language assistance shows a clear effort to give everyone an input in governance.

Best Practices for Government Agencies

All governments should strive to help voters participate in a language they are truly proficient in.
Following these practices will help you include every citizen.

  • Provide assistance even if you don’t have to. Your community will be strengthened if everyone with the right to vote is certain they will be able to use it.
  • If you are covered by Section 203, don’t assume you are in compliance. Review all materials between elections to make sure there are appropriate translations of every item, and that they are as easy to use as possible.
  • Involve qualified translators. Improperly translated materials are not only troublesome for your citizens and staff, they can cause you legal liability. Be sure they have been professionally translated.
  • Be ready to provide interpreters. Though LEP voters usually choose a friend or family member to help them vote, you should retain standby interpreting services to help them in the booth or to ease communication with election workers.