The Times reports that incoming Board of Elections member and former county commissioner Craig Lutz objects to the board’s decision to provide bilingual ballots for upcoming elections. Lutz calls the measure fiscally irresponsible and cites costs to taxpayers. This is only one of several shifting arguments against bilingual voting materials that don’t withstand scrutiny and are even contradictory. If the question really is only a fiscal one, Lutz should be relieved that by adopting bilingual ballots, the county will avoid costly court cases that have already been threatened under the Voting Rights Act.
Alternatively, opponents sometimes assert that bilingual ballots are unnecessary because anyone who can vote knows English anyway. This claim breezily dismisses natural-born citizens from Puerto Rico and those raised in Spanish-speaking homes, of whom there are many in Hall County. As for naturalized citizens, the naturalization process does require an English test but, as stated by the Citizenship and Immigration Services, only in simple vocabulary and grammar. Lengthy ballot measures can be difficult even for native English speakers and might be impossible for a newly naturalized citizen to decipher. English proficiency for citizens is a worthwhile goal but there is no law that requires fluency before voting.
What happens when neither of those arguments is available? The Times reported in November 2009 that due to a shipping mistake, the Elections Office received bilingual “Vote Here” signs that were then used in municipal elections. Far from worrying about the cost to taxpayers, Republican commissioners had the signs thrown out and new English-only signs ordered. Did Lutz think that was the fiscally responsible choice? Rather than expense or necessity, commissioners instead found a new concern that the signs were somehow confusing.
None of these arguments add up to anything other than plain hostility to the very idea of bilingual voting materials. The bottom line is that this measure does not take away any citizens right to vote but does expand access to this fundamental part of our democratic system. We shouldn’t let this important issue be confused by these smokescreens.