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How Do Non-English Speakers Vote?

Oct 31, 2022

An immigrant casts his vote in the the U.S. presidential election.

Around 8% of the U.S. population doesn’t speak English “very well,” according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

That makes voting in elections difficult for eligible voters with limited English-speaking skills, leaving them unable to understand the ballot or other election materials.

In 1975, a section was added to the Voting Rights Act to make it easier for non-English speakers to vote. Languages covered are Asian, American Indian, Alaska Native, and Spanish. In order for ballots and election information to be translated into another language, a state or county needs to satisfy the following criteria:

  • More than 5% of the voting population are not proficient in English, OR
  • More than 10,000 of eligible voters speak limited English AND
  • The rate of the voting population that are not English proficient and have less than a fifth grade education is higher than the national average

Currently, 331 jurisdictions meet the requirements outlined above, an increase of 68 since 2016, when the census last updated the list. Spanish is currently the most common language for translated ballots, followed by Chinese, Vietnamese, Navajo, Choctaw, and Filipino.

Immigration advocates say federal law doesn’t cover enough languages, leaving out voters who are from the Middle East and North Africa.

If you’re a non-English speaker confused about the voting process, various organizations can help.

For more info on the voting process, Boundless has put together a detailed guide on navigating the U.S. political system as a new immigrant.

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