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There goes the franchise

Over the weekend, I wrote a piece about Boston being sued by the Justice Department for not doing enough to help voters with poor English skills to vote. In the comments, "BorgQueen" questioned how someone who can't read English very well could qualify to vote.

A lot of people would call such a question hateful, divisive, discriminatory, xenophobic, bigoted, and a bunch of other things. But it got me thinking, and BorgQueen raised a hell of a point.

I'm going to spell out, very carefully, just what BorgQueen said in shorthand and ask you, the readers, to see if you can spot any flaws in it -- because after a couple days, I can't.

1) The right to vote is extended only to American citizens.

2) There are two and only two types of American citizens: "native" citizens, and "naturalized" citizens.

2a) For nearly every aspect of the law, there is no distinction between the two. The only one I can think of is that "naturalized" citizens can be stripped of their citizenship for certain criminal offenses.

3) "Native" citizens have their citizenship by virtue of having been born in the United States, or born of American citizens.

3a) The vast majority of people born in the United States grow up in the United States.

3b) Children growing up in the United States have to attend public schools until a certain age, and at those schools are taught things such as English and civics.

4a) Naturalized citizens, for the most part, become citizens after applying, being accepted, and passing a test on citizenship.

4b) The test is in English.

4c) The test focuses on American history and government.

By those simple points, it strikes me as almost impossible for someone to be an American citizen, yet not be at least rudimentally fluent in English. Either they learned it at home, in the schools, or in preparing for their citizenship exam.

(Yes, there are cases of children born abroad who grow up speaking the language of that land and then finally come to America as adults, but those are few and far between.)

So, why the HELL should ANY town, city, county, or state be compelled to provide any sort of translation services at the polling stations?

There's gotta be a flaw somewhere in my logic. Big Wizbang Bonus Bucks (redeemable for absolutely nothing) for whoever can figure out where the catch is -- because I sure as hell can't see it.


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Comments (33)

The case you entirely forgo... (Below threshold)

The case you entirely forgot is that of a child of migrant parents who is born while they are working in this country - and there are literally millions of them.

Having been born while in the USA makes them a citizen by right - see the Constitution for details - but they are educated largly by their family, not the public school system.

Now, I DON'T think this is any reason for english not to be declared the official language of the US of A (a glaring omission in the Constitution, IMHO), but you only asked about the catch, not the cure.

I'll try. What ma... (Below threshold)

I'll try.

What matters is not whether a voter should be proficient in and able to understand English, but rather whether they are. Since the state is not allowed to discriminate between different groups of voters (rich-v-poor, blcack-v-white), giving one group instructions they can understand provides that group with advantages over groups not able to speak/read that language.... which is a no-no (remember, in Bush-Gore, the Supreme Court's rationale was based on the prohibition against treating voters differently).

So if you want to give some voters instructions they can understand, you've got to give all voters (to the extent possible) instructions they can understand.

How's that?

No flaw in your logic. The ... (Below threshold)

No flaw in your logic. The flaw is in the brain of the politician suggesting the help for illegal voters.

Steve,Why is that ... (Below threshold)


Why is that more fair than having a single language as the standard for all business and legal transactions?

Most other democratic countries do, in fact, require their voters to understand a single language.

"hateful, divisive, discrim... (Below threshold)

"hateful, divisive, discriminatory, xenophobic, bigoted, and a bunch of other things?" I should hope not, since that's not how it was intended (and I don't bow to the thought police).

All I want is that the people who are ultimately elected to lead and shape this country, and by extension the lives of its citizens, be elected by people who care enough to be informed. I don't see how one can do that by refusing to learn the language of the land, whether or not it's an "official" language.

And before someone starts yelling about ivory tower elitism, that's hogwash. All I have is a two year degree and plenty of life experience.

I am not sure how it... (Below threshold)
B Moe:

I am not sure how it happens, but all these folks going around calling the Democratic party progressive lead me to believe there might be a problem.

PlainBill: Ah, fair is in t... (Below threshold)

PlainBill: Ah, fair is in the eyes of the beholder. And correct me if I have this wrong, but fair is not the legal standard, 'equal' is.... and equal is pretty much defined as the 'same'. It's akin to accomodating blind voters, voters in wheelchairs and so on.... you can't get away with saying that all ballots are on paper and everybody has to squeeze into the same small polling booth.... any more than you can say that all instructions are in English.

FWIW, I'm not a fan of the above, but I didn't know how many readers Jay has from the other side of the aisle, so I thought I'd offer up some viewpoints...

I'm thinkin' ballots should... (Below threshold)

I'm thinkin' ballots should be written in ebonics, no?

Frankly, most voters are too damed uninformed to vote--and I'm talking about the English speakers! Compound that with language barriers, and we're in a world of hurt.

Frankly, I'm ready to go back to the requirement that voters be land owners. The people who elect our government should be the people who actually make important decisions in their daily lives. There are too many braindead morons who don't or can't make choices in their domestic or work lives, but they're allowed to select our leaders. This is very harmful.

I wish there were a system to test morons to see if they understand issues, and the likely consequences of voting in a particular way. Most voters really have no clue, and they should not be permitted the right to direct the course of our country.

Go ahead, call me an elitist. Whatever. But you KNOW it's true! Christ, Kerry came dangerously close to winning this election because of the morons who actually believe Michael Moore, John Kerry, and other vapid unqualified liars.

Gimme another beer--I'm getting pissed off.

Maybe I need another shot o... (Below threshold)

Maybe I need another shot of tequila, too! How could I begin two consecutive paragraphs with the worthless term, Frankly?"


Frankly, Mark, I thought yo... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Frankly, Mark, I thought you were leaving us after those last Constitutional dustups.

By the way, did you miss my little invocation of the 10th Amendment over the weekend? It just might drive you to even more drinking...


The flaw in your logic is s... (Below threshold)

The flaw in your logic is simple; We have left behind being the United States of America to become the PC States of America.

Steve, When you said... (Below threshold)

When you said:
you can't get away with saying that all ballots are on paper and everybody has to squeeze into the same small polling booth.... any more than you can say that all instructions are in English.

The salient difference is that the handicapped require assistance due to physical defect that has no other remedy than accomodation.

English can be learned.

Ok, Jay, lemme have a coupl... (Below threshold)

Ok, Jay, lemme have a couple tacos with my tequila, and I'll check out the 10th Amendment thingy. Unless I pass out first.


Illiterate people should no... (Below threshold)

Illiterate people should not be allowed to vote, period. The illiterates are generally bused to polling sites by some party with an agenda. They are told to vote either for a Republican Party candidate, or for a Democrat Party candidate. Incentives could be (probably) are an impetus to get these people to go to the polls.

There are enough people who vote blindly without researching the candidates. To add illiterates to the mix, who cannot read, nor understand what the candidates say, is a detriment to the democratic process.

Those who do not want to assimilate, should be shipped out of the US, post haste.

I'm a child of an immigrant... (Below threshold)

I'm a child of an immigrant, so perhaps my bias shows. Let me correct one thing in your logic: The citizenship test may be in English, but applicants are allowed translaters for the test. English fluency is not required.

A second point I would make is this. Naturalized citizens must pass a test of civics and history. Native citizens may be required to attend school where such things are taught, but are not required to actually learn them. They do not have to pass a test. In fact, some native citizens, whose parents themselves lack an appreciation of the civics of this great nation, have had the misfortune of flunking US History taught by my immigrant mother. In many ways, I doubt she would oppose a civics test requirement for the right to vote. Ironic, isn't it?

If the Español speaking peo... (Below threshold)

If the Español speaking people have a problem with English only ballots they need to be reminded that in Mexico all contracts are in Spanish or they are null and void. Down here they have an official and they have no problem with letting you know you better know it or suffer if you don't.

OK, I had been responding i... (Below threshold)

OK, I had been responding in a public service type of way, trying to illuminate the thinking that drives policies such as that Jay was complaining about.

But I've got to take real issue with the suggestion that there be some sort of literacy test on voting.

Having to pass a test in order to vote puts too much power in the hands of those creating the test to include things they consider important and which I may not.

Just as I'm sure that you don't want me deciding what you need to know in order for you to vote, I don't want you excluding me from the polls because I don't know the answer to some silly-a** question you've dreamed up. How many conservatives want to entrust liberals with devising the tests that determine whether we get to vote or not?

It would be one thing if I got to design the test, or if I was given a life-time pass. But since I'm not.... no tests, literacy or otherwise.

Re: "The citizenship test m... (Below threshold)

Re: "The citizenship test may be in English, but applicants are allowed translaters for the test. English fluency is not required."

This may be the current practice, but it is just plain, flat ass wrong. Note the 3rd requirement below.

Per the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (http://uscis.gov/graphics/services/natz/)

"Naturalization is the process by which U.S. citizenship is conferred upon a foreign citizen or national after he or she fulfills the requirements established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The general requirements for administrative naturalization include:

* a period of continuous residence and physical presence in the United States;
* residence in a particular USCIS District prior to filing;
* an ability to read, write, and speak English;
* a knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and government;
* good moral character;
* attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution; and,
* favorable disposition toward the United States.

A bi-partisan committee sho... (Below threshold)

A bi-partisan committee should be able to come with a reasonable test. It would be fun to see if both parties had to submit their version for public display first. Just out of fairness I think everyone should have to pass it, not just immigrants. The democrat verison would probably be the old "which hand is the peanut in" exam. It would be fun to find out what the party that wants convicted felons to automatically be reinstated to full franchise rights as soon as the leave prison (or never disenfranchised at all, able to vote from their cells) thinks is a reasonable competency test.

Here's an example: Indians ... (Below threshold)

Here's an example: Indians fluent in Navajo, but not English. The number is likely falling fast, but ethnologue.com says 7,616 of the Navajo are still monolingual as of 1996.

Others in the same boat include Yupik speakers in Alaska, Gullah in Georgia, (probably some) French Creole speakers in Louisiana, and so on. Granted, the sum total of folks in this situation is not that big. English has made enormous inroads among the non-English speaking natives.

I have to be fair here, sin... (Below threshold)

I have to be fair here, since Puerto Rico is part of the US, Spanish should be allowed. (Of course, I'd love to find a way to limit it to just Puerto Ricans)

Unfortunately the citizensh... (Below threshold)

Unfortunately the citizenship test had been "dumbed down" to the point where "English proficiency" on the written portion can be as simple as writing a three or four word sentence that makes passable sense, like "the chair is red". Much like the oath of allegiance was dumbed down a little while ago because of all those pesky hard English words immigrants just could not understand, like "abjure" and "potentate." Plus, waivers are readily available (usually if you have a good immigration lawyer, or a willing doctor) who will attest that your "disability" impedes your ability to speak or comprehend English and necessitates a waiver of the requirement. Of course, the definition of what constitutes such a disability is wide. Not to mention that there are automatic waivers in place for those immigrants of a certain age or who have been here for a certain number of years. Funny, the path to applying for citizenship used to be at least a little difficult; you know, something people strove and worked for so that attaining it actually meant something instead of using it as a more convenient vehicle to immigrate the rest of your family more quickly or to continue to qualify for certain types of benefits.

Another flaw in the English... (Below threshold)

Another flaw in the English-only ointment. *Native* Americans. There are actually still a few places around the country where ballots are printed in Indian languages.

And yes, that's reason enough to think twice about English-only legislation.

Steve S....But I've ... (Below threshold)

Steve S
....But I've got to take real issue with the suggestion that there be some sort of literacy test on voting....

My suggestion is that you must have a High School diploma (or equivalent) to vote. This accomplishes 2 things:
1. Adds value to the diploma
2. Gives us a more informed electorate.

If someone is too stupid or lazy to get a diploma, I personally don't want them voting, i.e. with the Right to vote should also come some responsibility


I rarely post, but I have t... (Below threshold)

I rarely post, but I have to mention something about Diane comments:

"I'm a child of an immigrant, so perhaps my bias shows. Let me correct one thing in your logic: The citizenship test may be in English, but applicants are allowed translaters for the test. English fluency is not required"

Diane is obviously part of the "quota and favorable" immigrant group.

What I mean by this, is that only CERTAIN group are allowed translators. Other are on their own. The ones i know of are spanish, chinese, Russian, and Tagalog in San Francisco, the hub of selective diversity. My mother in law, a innocent Iranian who only want to be near her daughter, is not included in this group since she has not been included in the correct political group. Just so there is no confusion, my wife hates what is going on in Iran right now and the Hostage taking leader, and is more conservative than me. It just needs to be stated that multiple language exceptions only apply to the "right" groups. BTW, she has has this issue for the last 7 years, so do not bother with explaining this in recent events. Diversity is a business my friends... for the right people..
My mother in law, who has been going to English school now for 4 years, is trying. Maybe others should to....

P.S Do you all have any idea what it is like to be a fact based conservative in San Francisco? Ugh!

shark...your comments point... (Below threshold)

shark...your comments point out the problem with assimilation and how that affects communications (learning the language of the land, English)...and that is, if/when an area/people are "a part of the U.S.," that is expected (by most of us, community-wise and governmentally-wise) to mean that they're A PART OF THE U.S., part of this country.

By maintaining a separation such as you suggest for any part of the country just emphasises that that separate part (d'oh) isn't really a part of the nation but a separate area with some sort of dalliance, partial-only affinity or even usery of some sort.

IF and when a part of the U.S., that means what it means and that means: an aspect of the country, governed by one Constitution and the three branches of the federal government, all of it.

I'm not suggesting that there not be any regional differences, or even within regions, differences, between parts of the country. I'm just saying that where the government and citizenship requirements and all of that that comprises our national behavior, we're all -- or supposed to be all -- on the same page as to basic governing laws and requirements.

The suggestion you've made would open up a world of differences to return our U.S. to a place more like the Phillipines I was describing the other day (other thread about language).

Jay Tea: as I understand i... (Below threshold)

Jay Tea: as I understand it, the accommodations are just that, accommodations for people who have proven a need for them. Unfortunately, the area of "proof" and "need is no longer substantial and anyone who wants to write a nasty letter to any city hall or state governor's office about not being accommodated as to voting will probably result (and has) in a wide array of accommodations for a wide array of limitations.

I think what's occured is that localities have concluded that it's less expensive to accommodate as to voting (in nearly all possible languages in many areas) than to respond to yet another lawsuit from the ACLU about lack of accommodation, or any one of many organizations who exist to bring such lawsuits.

This isn't, actually, a silly or disparageable area -- accommodating those with limitations -- and should be respected BUT when it comes to the multi-language thing, people who are not learned in English are not suffering disabilities (mental and/or physical and/or emotional limitations) but are just unlearned, usually by attitude. So to accommodate a bad attitude is the worst pill of all for most of us to understand and even tolerate.

As citizens, people are expected to learn and be able to communicate adequately in English. I don't know as to what excuses people rely on to explain away why they haven't managed that requirement and yet are still citizens, but it's a violation of the requirements of citizenship.

Jay's logic isn't failed. But it's the accommodation factor in the face of possible lawsuits that has brought about language accommodations. Even responding to a lawsuit is expensive and most localities would rather not do so, much less engage in one. Thus, you get those multi-language ballots.

At TAXPAYERS' expense. Some of whom don't speak English/read/write it, and that's the leverage factor in the accommodation issue. On the other hand, if they're not citizens but still paying taxes, they are not eligible to vote -- I don't THINK so, unless that's also an area today that's been overwhelmed.

In CA, they argue and argue that voting processes should not be asking for identification inorder for people to vote, that that requirement "threatens some immigrants away" from voting (if they're asked for an i.d. before voting, that they are likely to not vote, not show up because they don't want to show i.d.).

And, I respond to that by saying, if they can't show an i.d. or fear some retribution for showing an i.d., they shouldn't be voting so go ahead and stay "home." Don't vote. Better than committing fraud and voting under false i.d.'s, which is more than likely the reason they are afraid to show i.d.'s in the first place. That and that their false i.d.s could evidence that they aren't citizens...and should not be voting in the first place.

Jay, your argument fails in... (Below threshold)

Jay, your argument fails in the face of fact.

There are native born Americans who do not speak English, even though they may be third-generation Americans, or even longer. Think Native Americans--particularly in Alaska. Think Latin-Americans in parts of the SW. Think of the elderly in several of our "Chinatowns."

These people cannot be disenfranchised because they are violating a non-law.

I'm happy that my state did declare English to be the official language. But that's not what the federal laws demand.

Oh, the mute don't speak English, either.

RE: SanFrancsicoGuy's post ... (Below threshold)

RE: SanFrancsicoGuy's post (August 1, 2005 11:55 PM)

Very good point... which is why most (almost all?) countries settle on the traditional/historic language of its inhabitants to conduct governmental functions. There is a practicality of doing things a certain way, and bucking that common sense leads to the contrived dilemmas of which you speak. Yes, by rights I guess we should be speaking Indian dialects to play by strict rules, but our civilization as it has been created is English-based. Uniformity of that entity seems most expedient for such perfunctory events as voting. Away from the booth, however, let the market decide. In time, we may very well adopt Spanish as the "official" language and English translators will become the necessary accommodation.

Frankly, I cannot refute Jay Tea's (and BorgQueen's) original thesis though I have some sympathy for non-natives who have difficulty with ballots. Heck, when I read an amendment or a proposition, sometimes it actually means the exact opposite of what I think it means. Maybe we should all get an aide in the booth.

just for the record, nobody... (Below threshold)

just for the record, nobody in the US is required to attend _public_ school. You must attend school until a certain age, but not public school.

I was going to make the sam... (Below threshold)

I was going to make the same remark as rich.

And there is no requirement in any state that private schools (or homeschools, for that matter) must be run in English.

As well, even if one goes to public school, in some districts it was possible to not really learn any useful English (though "bilingual" classes are becoming more rare now, as people realize the kids generally aren't taught English.)

Lastly, even if you go to school, there's no requirement that you actually learn anything useful or at all.

However, that's neither here nor there.

The question is why should the government be required to provide election materials in more than English. Perhaps we should get a Constitutional amendment indicating that the government need not provide any documentation other than English for any official purpose (though, of course, if they want to, they can. I just want to prevent a judge from deciding language policy in the U.S.)

"Oh, the mute don't spea... (Below threshold)

"Oh, the mute don't speak English, either."

Dude. [Shakes head] That doesn't mean they can't read or understand English.

It's not as if one doesn't have numerous opportunities to learn the language. That is what this country is all about. Opportunity. In essence, we're telling some that it's okay to be stubborn and lazy by refusing to learn the language. In that case they're sure to vote Democrat. And the Democrats know that. That's why they continue to be the enablers.

I wish more voters were mut... (Below threshold)

I wish more voters were mute.

You know, abstain from voting because they have no clue.

I do that all the time. If I haven't researched a particular proposition, or if I don't have an opinion on it, then I don't vote on it and I skip over to the next one. Ok, call me "unamerican."

More democrats need to be this way.






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