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In 1992, Congress passed the Voting Rights Language Assistance Act, which amended Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act. The Voting Rights Language Assistance Act requires election officials in states and political subdivisions with significant numbers of non-English speaking citizens of voting age to provide bilingual services to them. The expiration date of Section 203 was extended for 15 more years to 2007.
Debate on Bilingual Voting Assistance
Proponents of Assistance. Proponents of bilingual language assistance argued that considerable numbers of recently naturalized immigrants were not sufficiently fluent in English to understand complicated election procedures and electoral issues. Some long-time citizens of the United States, such as older Hispanics who learned very little English in school because they grew up in communities where Spanish was the principal language, needed language assistance too. As a result of their limited English, many of these citizens did not register and vote, even though, through the use of non-English news publications and radios, they were informed on the issues. Those who recommended bilingual language assistance argued that historically this country acknowledged and tolerated linguistic pluralism and diversity in education and should do likewise in the political arena. Advocates of providing bilingual election materials rejected the charge that language assistance discourages people from learning English. They maintained that people learn English for many reasons, most importantly to secure good employment and to communicate with others in the community. The provision of language assistance, they argued, did not diminish the motivations for learning English. On the contrary, it strengthened the ties that bound the people of the United States, for it was inclusive in nature rather than exclusive, and thereby ensured that no citizen was denied the fundamental right to vote because of a lack of fluency in English. (98)
Opponents of Assistance. The extension of Section 203 was opposed for several reasons. Opponents of the extension questioned whether it was needed. They contended that evidence submitted when the 1975 amendments were added was feeble then and had become even less persuasive. Some denied that there had been sufficient proof offered that bilingual ballots were effective in increasing voter registration, voter participation, or in changing the voter registration and/or participation between white and minority voters. Opponents who considered the bilingual election requirement a distortion of the intent of the Voting Rights Act argued that Congress passed the act in response to discrimination against racial minorities at the polling place. According to them, a person's ability to understand English was not immutable in the way a person's race is; thus, applying the Voting Rights Act in this way discouraged persons …