Texas law on vot­ing in­ter­preter blocked

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICA - By PAUL WELITZKIN in New York paulwelitzkin@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

A rul­ing by a fed­eral judge will en­able res­i­dents of Texas with lit­tle or no un­der­stand­ing of English to have any in­ter­preter help them on elec­tion day in the vot­ing booth.

US Dis­trict Judge Robert Pittman on Aug 12 blocked a Texas state law that re­quired in­ter­preters to be reg­is­tered to vote in the same county as the per­son they are help­ing.

“We brought this case be­cause we found that this dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected Asian Amer­i­cans,” Jerry Vat­ta­mala of the New York-based Asian Amer­i­can Le­gal De­fense and Ed­u­ca­tion Fund (AALDEF) said in an in­ter­view.

Vat­ta­mala said the AALDEF filed a law­suit in 2015 on be­half of Mal­lika Das, an In­dian-Amer­i­can voter who was pre­vented from re­ceiv­ing as­sis­tance from her son in an elec­tion in 2014 be­cause he was not a reg­is­tered voter in the county where she was reg­is­tered. Sau­rabh Das was reg­is­tered in a neigh­bor­ing county.

“I am happy that the court has sided with Asian-Amer­i­can vot­ers and pro­tected their rights un­der fed­eral law to re­ceive as­sis­tance from per­sons of their choice. I hope that this de­ci­sion will al­low more Asian Amer­i­cans to vote for many elec­tions to come. My mother would have been pleased to see this out­come,” he said in a state­ment. His mother died in the course of the law­suit.

Pittman ruled that the res­i­dency re­quire­ment vi­o­lated Sec­tion 208 of the Vot­ing Rights Act, which guar­an­tees vot­ers the right to be helped by a per­son of their choice if they need as­sis­tance be­cause of a phys­i­cal dis­abil­ity like blind­ness or the in­abil­ity to read or write.

To en­joy the same op­por­tu­nity to vote as other cit­i­zens, Pittman said vot­ers with lim­ited lan­guage abil­i­ties must be able to nav­i­gate polling sta­tions and com­mu­ni­cate with elec­tion of­fi­cials.

Asian-Amer­i­can vot­ers ben­e­fit from Sec­tion 208 be­cause most ju­ris­dic­tions in Texas are not re­quired to pro­vide Asian lan­guage in­ter­preters un­der the Vot­ing Rights Act, said Vat­ta­mala. Sec­tion 208 al­lows vot­ers with lim­ited pro­fi­ciency in English to be as­sisted by their friends or fam­ily mem­bers in­side the vot­ing booth, regard­less of the cit­i­zen­ship or voter reg­is­tra­tion sta­tus of the as­sis­tor.

Vat­ta­mala said the rul­ing ap­plies to all vot­ers in Texas ,in­clud­ing His­pan­ics and other mi­nori­ties. “We found that Asian Amer­i­cans usu­ally rely on fam­ily mem­bers to help them with vot­ing,” he said.

In April, the AALDEF reached a set­tle­ment with Wil­liamson County, Texas, where Mal­lika Das was reg­is­tered to vote. Vat­ta­mala said the state can ap­peal Pittman’s de­ci­sion.

“We are not aware of any other state that has this in­ter­preter re­quire­ment,” said Vat­ta­mala.

Vot­ing rights have emerged as an is­sue in the 2016 elec­tion. In 2013, the Supreme Court in­val­i­dated a key pro­vi­sion of the Vot­ing Rights Act, which re­quired mostly South­ern states with a his­tory of dis­crim­i­na­tion to re­ceive fed­eral ap­proval to change elec­tion laws. The court de­ci­sion made it eas­ier for states to im­pose new re­stric­tions.

At least 15 states in­clud­ing some that may be im­por­tant in de­cid­ing the pres­i­den­tial race are set to have reg­u­la­tions in­volv­ing voter iden­ti­fi­ca­tion or other re­quire­ments.

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