America / ARTICLES

The Boston Globe: “Bill aims to make sure voters don’t get lost in translation”

Two state legislators filed a bill on Beacon Hill last Wednesday to reauthorize a ballot measure that helps make it easier for Asian Bostonians to vote.

Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and Representative Jeffrey Sanchez cosponsored a bill to translate ballots – including candidates’ names – into Chinese and Vietnamese.

Boston had translated ballots into Chinese and Vietnamese since 2005, but the lawsuit requiring the city to do so expired at the end of 2008. Now the city needs state authorization to continue using bilingual ballots.

If the legislation passes, ballots in Chinese will be available at some polling places in Chinatown and Allston, while ballots in Vietnamese will be printed for Dorchester voters, said Boston City Councilor Sam Yoon, who supports the bill.

Yoon said he is optimistic about the bill’s chances of success in the Legislature, because of its sponsorship by two lawmakers who speak Spanish and English.

“Because these state legislators have experience in other languages, they will be much more prepared to argue the merits of this bill,” he said.

Chang-Diaz, whose great-grandfather was from China, already got her name transliterated to Chinese and printed in Chinese newspapers to reach out to her constituents in Boston. She said “Chang” was easy because that’s the part of her name that comes from the Chinese side of the family. “Sonia” and “Diaz” were more complicated because that’s her Costa Rican side.

Boston’s ballots are already printed in Spanish. According to the 2000 Census, Boston is home to approximately 20,000 Chinese people and 11,000 Vietnamese people. So, why aren’t ballots also translated into the other languages widely spoken in the city, such as Haitian Creole and Russian?

“I’d be happy to sponsor a bill” that does that, said Councilor Yoon, who was born in Korea. “This is about equal access to all citizens.”

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