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New Minority Language Data Resets Environment for Voting Assistance in 2012

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Yesterday, the U.S. Census Bureau released a notice of determination of minority language status following the 2010 census.

It's an interesting list - while some jurisdictions will be required for the first time to make voting materials available in alternate languages for the first time, many other jurisdictions who were on the list in 2002 are not this time around. As the Associated Press reported, the total number of covered jurisdictions went from 296 jurisdictions in 30 states ten years ago to 248 jurisdictions in 25 states beginning in 2012.

If you want to play with the data, I did a quick grab and reformat of the 2002 and 2012 determinations, which you can find here.

There are some interesting tidbits in there - for example, there is apparently a sizable Filipino population in Alaska's Aleutians East Borough and enough Bangladeshis in Michigan's Hamtramck City to qualify for language assistance.

It will be especially interesting to see what happens in those jurisdictions who no longer appear on the 2012 list; do they continue to offer voting materials in alternate languages? Or does such assistance fall victim to the overall desire to save resources in the current tight fiscal environment?

For jurisdictions just joining the list - or in the case of Los Angeles County, CA, adding yet another language - my observations from August still stand:

[I]nformation sharing [about minority language materials] can and should happen both within and between states; while no two jurisdictions (or language communities) are alike, having common materials will afford newcomers a "first draft" that will help them get started while "old timers" will see many more use cases of their materials that be used to further improve what they already have.

Stay tuned - there will undoubtedly be far more news on this front over the next several months.


  • Good post, Doug. It will also be interesting to see how the Obama DOJ approaches enforcement. Remember the Bush Administration made stringent enforcement a hallmark (the hallmark?) of its VRA enforcement, in part I think to cover its lack of enthusiasm for other parts of the act. For election officials, whether the Obama DOJ takes a cooperative approach and works with local offices, or insists on memoranda of agreement (or other court-enforced devices), can make a world of difference for how they run their offices.

    Tighter election budgets may also complicate the efforts of some election directors to keep their jurisdictions out of hot water by making it more difficult to proactively provide assistance ...

  • Perhaps the "minimal usage" mentiond by the DS SOS is indicative of a general failure to engage in appropriate outreach to and partnerships with native communities.

  • The South Dakota stuff is interesting. I doubt many Native Americans (particularly those living near Wounded Knee!) will agree that this is "a defining moment in voting for Native Americans."

    That said, the coverage formula probably works better in some places than others. When I was on the Pine Ridge reservation for elections I asked a lot of Lakota if they knew of any tribes people who had trouble with English, and they could only speculate that there might be some very elderly people living in remote areas who might have trouble, but they didn't know of any. For those voters, it's probably more personal assistance that is needed than, say, bilingual materials. In any case, it will be interesting to see what happens in South Dakota now that the mandate is gone.

  • A fair amount of the Native American coverage was (and is) illusory. The coverage formula is based on the language need rate in reservations, and a number of counties with zero Native population were/are covered because they include unpopulated parts of reservations.

    Most of the counties - both Native American and Spanish - that dropped out are rural areas with very small populations.

    The big relative increase is in the Asian language coverage. Past experience indicates that the new Asian coverage will pose real challenges for many counties. There was little new Spanish coverage compared to the 1992-2002 increase.

    For what it's worth, 5 of the 6 Voting Rights Act cases filed during the Obama administration to date have involved the minority language provisions.

    The start-up and ongoing costs depend upon how thoughtful and proactive the election officials are. There are ways to minimize costs while seerving voters effectivley, and ways to waste a lot of money while serving few voters.

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