Election year ploy: English-only ballots proposed

(The following article was published June 12 by the South Bend Tribune)

English-only ballots proposed
Rep. Souder’s bill meets with opposition.

ED RONCO
Tribune Staff Writer

Federal election ballots would only be printed in English if a bill co-sponsored by a northern Indiana congressman becomes law.

But critics say even though immigrants need to know basic English to become a citizen and get the right to vote, the language on a ballot is more complicated, making the law unreasonable to a large number of people.

U.S. Rep. Mark Souder, R-3rd, is one of 37 representatives backing H.R. 5971, which is titled the American Elections Act of 2008.

It was introduced in early May and would require that ballots be provided only in the English language.

Exceptions would be made for American Indian and Alaska Native dialects, as required by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”English is the unifying language of the United States, and understanding of English is fundamental to participation in our political process,” Souder said in a statement. “Bluntly put, if you can’t read the election ballot, how can you possibly follow the political debate?”

The bill to require English on the ballots would “unite Americans and eliminate the unnecessary division among voters caused by multiple language ballots,” he said.

In St. Joseph County, ballots are only printed in English. Same goes for Elkhart County, about 75 percent of which falls into Souder’s district.

Foreign language speakers who come to the United States and apply for citizenship must learn basic English to pass the required tests, said Marilyn Torres, of the Goshen-based community group Immigration Task Force.”But that wouldn’t be the kind of vocabulary you’d have to have in order to read a ballot in English and understand everything on it,” Torres said.

That’s why it’s necessary for ballots to sometimes be printed in languages other than English, and it’s why Torres thinks English-only ballots are a bad idea, she said.

Rebecca Ruvalcaba agrees. She’s executive director of La Casa de Amistad, a community center that attempts to address the needs of South Bend-area Hispanics.

“It would be a disservice for our citizens that are Spanish speaking, especially our elders who became citizens but have very little English-speaking ability,” Ruvalcaba said.

U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-2nd, still is reviewing the bill, spokeswoman Samantha Slater said.”While ensuring that all citizens should be able to freely exercise their right to vote, Joe believes that new citizens should follow the example of previous generations of immigrants who worked hard to master the English language and who embraced their new country and culture,” she said in a statement.

The bill has been sitting in committees since early May, shortly after it was introduced.

(bold type by DW)

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