Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Save bilingual Chinese ballots in Massachusetts!

William Galvin, Massachusetts' Secretary of State (technically Sec of Commonwealth), is whining about how he doesn't want to have fully bilingual ballots in Chinese because candidates' names could be translated in so many different ways.

It's an issue that has been bubbling over at the local level and has recently made its way onto the national scene, with USAToday and other major dailies taking notice and getting presidential campaigns to voice their opinions.

Boston's 2008 presidential primary ballot could read like a bad Chinese menu.

There might be "Sticky Rice" in column A, "Virtue Soup" in column B and, in column C, "Upset Stomach."

Those could be choices facing some voters if the names of Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson and Hillary Rodham Clinton were converted into Chinese characters, according to Massachusetts' top election official. And that gives Secretary of State William Galvin heartburn.

On Tuesday, Galvin filed a challenge in federal court to a Justice Department agreement requiring that ballots be fully translated to protect the rights of Chinese-speaking voters.

Galvin says Chinese — which uses characters, not letters; has sounds with several meanings; and is spoken in several dialects — will create ballot chaos.

I'm sorry to say that my only response is: Boo-fucking-hoo. I'm sorry that it's so tedious and bothersome to do the job that Massachusetts residents pay you to do and that it gives you heartburn. I mean, it's only FEDERAL ELECTION LAW that all counties where the population of people speaking a given language make up 5% or more have to provide bilingual ballots, voter information, and access to the polls.

Last time I checked, Massachusetts was still part of the United States, so I think it's subject to Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act.

It's not like you haven't had two years to figure out HOW to do your job - according to the Chinese Progressive Association's website, they got the US Department of Justice's go-ahead on bilingual ballots in Chinese and Vietnamese for Boston residents in 2005.

And yeah, it can be hard work to translate ballots, but as the Boston Globe ran a full voting rights op-ed recently pointed out:

Not only has the City of Boston successfully transliterated candidate names on the ballot twice this spring, but other localities have been doing so for years, including Alameda County, Los Angeles County, Orange County, San Francisco County, and Santa Clara County in California. New York City has transliterated candidate names in every election for the past 13 years.

...[Governor] Deval Patrick, during his tenure at the US Department of Justice, wrote the following opinion about the same issue confronted by New York: "Our analysis shows that a candidate's name is one of the most important items of information sought by a voter before casting his or her ballot for a particular candidate . . . For voters who need Chinese-language materials, the translation of candidates' names is important because Roman characters are completely different from Chinese characters."

So William Galvin wants to slack on his job because it's too difficult?

Write to him here and tell him that you think Chinese Americans should have full voting rights, including the right to have the candidates' names in Chinese:

Mailing Address:

Secretary of the Commonwealth
Elections Division
McCormack Building, Room 1705
One Ashburton Place
Boston, MA 02108

Telephone: (617) 727-2828
Toll-Free: 1-800-462-VOTE (8683)
(617) 742-3238

Email: elections@sec.state.ma.us

PS: If the USAToday article gives you heartburn because it tries to too cleverly tie in bad Chinese food amidst the current anti-Chinese products scare, read my next post on food safety and xenophobia.

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