In the run-up to the 2012 elections, the federal government is ordering that 248 counties and other political jurisdictions provide bilingual ballots to Hispanics and other minorities who speak little or no English.
That number is down from a decade ago following the 2000 census, which covered 296 counties in 30 states. In all, more than 1 in 18 jurisdictions must now provide foreign-language assistance in pre-election publicity, voter registration, early voting and absentee applications as well as Election Day balloting.
The latest requirements, mandated under the Voting Rights Act, partly reflect second and third generations of racial and ethnic minorities who are now reporting higher levels of proficiency in English than their parents. Still, analysts cite a greater potential for resistance from localities that face tighter budgets, new laws requiring voter IDs at polls and increased anti-immigration sentiment.
Effective this week, Hispanics who don’t speak English will be entitled to Spanish-language election material in urban areas of political battleground states including Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin, Utah and Florida. For the first time, people from India will get election material in their native language, in voting precincts in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, due to their fast population growth.