March for fully bilingual ballots in Boston

June 25, 2008

"It's not a joke! We want to vote!" was the rallying call when a group of residents marched from Chinatown to the Massachusetts State House demanding fully bilingual ballots this past Monday.

Residents march for Chinese and Vietnamese translated ballots

The Asian American Civil Rights March and Speak-Out was originally planned for last Thursday, June 19, also known as Juneteenth, the annual celebration of African American Emancipation Day. (The march had to be rescheduled due to the Celtics victory parade.) Organizers of the march from the Coalition for Asian American Voting Rights paid tribute to past voting rights movements.

"We are standing in the footsteps of African American civil rights activists," said Lydia Lowe, executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association.

Monday's march was the newest action in the fight for Chinese and Vietnamese fully bilingual ballots. In 2005 an agreement was made between the U.S. Department of Justice and the City of Boston to provide fully bilingual ballots for Chinese and Vietnamese Americans with limited English proficiency. However, this agreement expires in 2008.

So far, the Secretary of the Commonwealth, William Galvin, has refused to provide 100 percent bilingual ballots. This means that although other parts of the ballot will be translated in Chinese and Vietnamese, there is no Chinese transliteration of candidates' English names (meaning phonetic representation of English syllables in Chinese characters, which are entirely different than Roman-based English characters).

Without a 100% bilingual ballot, I lose my equal right to vote, independently & in private

Under the Voting Rights Act, the city of Boston is required to provide fair and full access to its elections, including fully bilingual ballots in precincts containing language-minority groups with over 10,000 citizens who have limited to no proficiency in English. A failure to provide fully bilingual ballots affects elderly citizens most, whom U.S. law allows to take the citizenship test in their native language if they have lived in the country for over 20 or 15 years (depending on age).

On Monday, allied marchers of diverse ethnicities and all ages delivered over 1,600 letters to Secretary Galvin's office in favor of fully bilingual ballots. These letters were sent to Galvin a year ago requesting equal voting rights, but he has not responded to the letters and has continued to refuse to meet with activists. Following the march was a speak-out that featured an impressive number of speakers including multiple community coalitions, voting rights activists and politicians.

Boston City Councilor Sam Yoon was present to make a short speech. Yoon co-filed an unanimously passed petition to the Boston City Council regarding this issue earlier this year. In his speech, Yoon cited a Department of Justice opinion written 14 years ago by the now Governor Deval Patrick, stressing the importance of transliterated names, particularly for Chinese-speakers.

Though there is a bill pending in the State Legislature to allow for fully bilingual ballots, it is extremely important that the bill passes in the two months left in the current session. Otherwise, it will not pass in time for the November election.

ACE understands the importance of providing bilingual information and believes that bilingual ballots are both a voting right and a civil right. We fully support equal and private access to elections for all American citizens, including Chinese and Vietnamese Americans.

We urge you to call your state senator and representative today to ask them to support the bilingual ballot and combat this civil rights violation. For more information, contact the Chinese Progressive Association.