Saturday, October 14, 2006

City of Philadelphia sued over multilingual voting.

Apparently the city of Philadelphia is getting sued by the federal government for failing to provide assistance to Spanish speakers at polling places.

You're not required to know English in order to become a U.S. citizen. That's always been the way it works. It helps, but it's not mandatory. In my hometown (also in Pennsylvania) there are still people today who speak German and Serbian, but never picked up English. Hell, I couldn't speak English when I became a citizen, and I was born in the United States, but by the time I was three years old, I'd picked up a good working knowledge of it, and have only improved from there/

Even if you do speak English, ballots should be supplied in your native language, if reasonable. And by reasonable I mean if there's a significant number of people in your community who are native speakers of your language. When you're a nation of immigrants, you need to make sure that elections are as clear, open and above-board as possible. This is the best way to do it.


At Saturday, October 14, 2006 at 2:20:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, according to the US Immigration's website, a person must be able to read, write, and speak English and pass a test in English in order to obtain citizen ship. The only exemption is for persons over 50 who have been in the country for over 20 years. Here's the link:

I firmly believe that if a person wants to become a citizen in a country other than their own, they have a responsibility to learn the language. This premise occurs in most other countries in the world. And it should apply here. The lawsuit is a waste of the citizins of the United States tax dollars as is providing every foreign group there own special language instructions.

Last thought, if they don't speak English, how do they understand the political ads? Are they run in Spanish, German, Serbian, etc.? Not where I live but do they in Philadelphia? If so, it would explain why someone thought this important but most of America still thinks it not.

At Sunday, October 15, 2006 at 8:43:00 AM EDT, Blogger Kurt Kaletka said...


I looked through the 112-page document you linked, but there's nothing there that says that fluency in English is required for citizenship. A working knowledge of English is sufficient for citizenship, sure, and it always has been, but not fluency. Big difference.

That said, if a person moves to another country, yes, they ought to learn the language. Otherwise they won't be able to get ahead, and they'll keep themselves out of our society. But expecting immigrants to learn the langauge before they get here is an unnecessary and unfair burden.

Offering Spanish-language ballot help (or help in other languages) is not about discouraging learning of English, but rather about including other communities. If you ever tried to learn another langauge, you might find that even if you do manage to learn it, you'll still have some trouble grasping your second langauge as well as your first.

It's easier to follow vital rules in your native language, especially if you learned a foreign language as an adult, when language acquisition doesn't come as easily. Where there are foreign communities, it is reasonable to facilitate the voting process in the languages of local immigrant communities. This does, after all, serve the best interests of the community.

Political ads are tailored to the voters in a particular area, as usual. Where there are large Spanish-speaking populations, political ads will appear in Spanish. I know this has happened in New York, Texas and California, and no doubt other parts of the country. Republican Governor George Pataki spoke Spanish in TV commercials during his 2002 reƫlection campaign, and though he didn't speak it especially well, he got the message across: Hispanic voters matter to me, too. But since there are no laws mandating what langauge ads are run in, a candidate is free to create them in foreign languages. More common is printed campaign literature in foreign languages, but like the TV commercials, it's up to the campaigns and the parties to decide whether they should be printed.

You who live where no one speaks other languages don't need to accomodate these immigrants, but it's fair and reasonable to enfranchise these immigrants by helping these communities run fair and honest elections. Making sure immigrants understand just what it means to pull that lever in the voting booth is part of that basic American fairness; to do any less would be indecent.


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