The upcoming 2020 presidential election is on a lot of people’s minds. More than 6 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, this election is like no other, with new concerns about safety and accessibility. And a recent CalMatters article about thousands of Arabic-speaking Californians who will need translated ballots got us thinking more about how hard it is to navigate elections for anyone not fluent in English.
This year, one in ten eligible U.S. voters are naturalized citizens. That’s more than 23 million U.S. immigrants, many of whom are limited English proficient (LEP) individuals. For anyone who knows or supports LEP voters — whether they’re your friends, family, colleagues, customers, or constituents — we’ve compiled resources available both online and at physical locations for you to help them out as needed.
Online voting resources for LEP individuals
If you’re looking for federal, state, and local jurisdiction resources for LEP voters, the U.S Election Assistance Commission (EAC)’s Language Access page is an excellent one to bookmark. This page has useful information like best practices, glossaries of common election terminology, and the National Mail Voter Registration (NMCR) form translated into 21 languages.
The U.S. government’s Interagency Working Group on Limited English Proficiency (LEP) offers a wealth of information, including multilingual materials, data and language maps, guides, and language access planning resources. And their website is available in 22 languages!
The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) links to language access info for each state. (Tip: Once you select your state on the map, most state pages have a “Language Access Plan” you can click on for more details.)
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) provides guidance for voters who speak English less than “very well,” with info on rights, tips, and hotlines in 11 languages. They also have resources for voting by mail in every state.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) provides in-language guides to Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires certain counties and jurisdictions to provide bilingual voting materials in communities with LEP residents.
With around 41 million Spanish speakers in the U.S., TurboVote offers myriad Spanish-language voting resources to help increase participation in elections, with voter registration, filing for absentee ballots, deadline reminders, and more.
Voto Latino is also focused on educating and empowering Latinx voters, while Vote.gov provides translated election info about voter registration, voter ID requirements, and the election process in English and Spanish.
LEP voter resources at physical locations
Libraries do more in a community than provide free access to books and information. They often play an integral role in elections, offering everything from info about voting and voter registration to convening candidate debates and forums to hosting polling sites. In many communities, libraries offer valuable services and programs for non-English speakers. Contact your local library to see what language support they provide.
Depending on where you live in the U.S., voting takes place either at an official polling place, by mail, or by casting an absentee ballot. If you’re voting in person, before Election Day find your voting location (the pandemic has caused some changes to polling places and election dates, so it’s a good idea for even English speakers to check) and contact them to find out what language accommodations they offer. Some counties have detailed language access pages with info like the availability of free interpreters, translated materials, and bilingual staff for LEP voters.
A deeper dive into language access for LEP voters
Elections are complex. Policies vary state by state, and language barriers make participating difficult. On top of the resources we provided above, we also came across a few other sites on how to better support minority voters.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) lays out the language minority provisions of the Voting Rights Act and links to the Language Minority Guidelines from the Civil Rights Division. Simply put, the DOJ states that the law ensures “all election information that is available in English must also be available in the minority language so that all citizens will have an effective opportunity to register, learn the details of the elections, and cast a free and effective ballot.”
The Center for Civic Design details how to meet voters’ language access needs, providing a free workbook for planning language access and a white paper on designing election systems around language access. With an emphasis on translated materials, Eriksen Translations adds important best practices for making elections accessible to LEP voters.
Language-minority voters have the right to understand the election process (and exercise their right to vote) just as English-speaking voters do. We hope these resources are helpful, and if you find any others you think we should add, let us know!