In future elections, Milwaukee will provide ballots and other voting information in Spanish as a result of the growth in the number of predominantly Spanish-speaking residents in the city.
This will be the first time any jurisdiction in Wisconsin will fall under the Voting Rights Act section which “requires that a state or political subdivision provide language assistance for voting when members of a single language minority group with limited English proficiency constitute more than 5% of the voting-age population or 10,000 voting-age citizens.” With the 2010 census finding that Latinos make up 17.3 percent of the city’s population, Milwaukee fits the bill.
Rep. Trent Franks, R-AZ, fears that it would create additional burdens for state and local budgets, which are already facing financial problems. Sue Edman, executive director of the Milwaukee’s Election Commission, noted that enactment may be more of an administrative challenge than a fiscal one.
Hiring bilingual poll workers won’t cost extra because all poll workers are paid the same, and bilingual workers would simply replace non-Spanish-speaking poll workers. Further, no increases in cost would come from printing ballots because the amount of English ballots will be reduced proportionately to the increase in Spanish ballots. According to Edman, the only real cost would come from translations of ballots, brochures and signs.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel online comments on the change show some polarization on the issue. One commenter wrote, “If they want to vote on a ballot written in Spanish, then go to mexico [sic] and vote,” and another wrote, “This is as despicable as having the banks and phones asking to select English to process a transaction.”
That is the kind of close-mindedness we do not need. It is similar to the partisanship we see in our state’s politics right now. It is a division of “us” against “them,” and a way of framing the issue that has a multitude of negative impacts. We lose the ability to recognize that it is not as simple as “We are the protagonists” and “They are the antagonists.”
Another commenter sums up a fatal flaw in the arguments against the requirement of Spanish ballots; he or she points out, “no one is refusing to learn English. … The voter ID laws have been changed drastically and ALL citizens should be encouraged to vote and able to find out the new rules easily.” Note the first sentence of this opinion: ” … as a result of the growth in the number of predominantly Spanish-speaking residents.” Not “Spanish-only speakers,” but those who predominantly speak it.
Critics of bilingual provisions often assume that speakers of a minority language can only speak their mother tongue. But think of all those who come here without knowing English, in hopes of learning it. Learning a language takes time and effort. It will not happen overnight. If your family immigrated to a foreign speaking country, how long would it take you to pick up the language to the point where you could confidently go into a voting booth and choose a politician to represent your views in the country in which you are now a legal resident?
All in all, this is a good step for Wisconsin to take. While it is important that one learn the language of the country in which he or she lives, it is also important that one be linguistically open minded. Why should we be so aggressively opposed to multilingualism? One commenter online pretty accurately described why any arguments against providing the option for access to multiple languages are ignoble; “Many Americans are simply comfortable not challenging their biases and prejudices and they rather focus on the negative, specifically if the race or ethnicity doesn’t match theirs.” We should not fear this movement towards tolerance; we should embrace it.
Reginald Young ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in legal studies and Scandinavian studies