8 Jan /13

Translating Power- The U.S. Presidential Elections and the challenges of a multilingual society

election translationAn old election adage states that “the only thing that matters is who shows up at the polls.” Modern elections are hotly contested affairs where candidates attempt to appeal to the broadest cross-section of voters and spend increasingly large amounts of funding trying to usher their supporters to the polls. The most rapidly growing part of the U.S. electorate is the half-million foreign-born citizens who yearly become eligible to vote in US elections. While both Democrats and Republicans have recognized how vitally important it is to be able mobilize the minority vote come crunch time, both parties still struggle to effectively communicate to these voters as for many of them English is not their mother tongue. This November’s presidential election has yet again shown the growing power of, for instance, the Latino vote, but equally clearly revealed the profound deficiencies of our voting system to successfully integrate citizens with language barriers into the democratic process.

At the last US general election, election materials were translated into the impressive number of 68 languages in 248 counties. Some jurisdictions even offered their ballots in more than two languages. For instance, Los Angeles County provided voting materials and assistance in six different languages. While Spanish is by far the most frequently heard language at the polls and has been so for quite some time, this doesn’t automatically mean that the available Spanish-language materials are accurate. Despite the predominance and experience with translations of voting materials into Spanish, Arizona’s Maricopa County officials printed educational election bookmarks and government voter cards with Spanish language translations that listed an incorrect date for the election. A similar blunder occurred in Maryland, where the summary of ballot question 6 (the same-sex civil marriage referendum) was incorrectly translated from English to Spanish thereby misleading voters about the actual nature and scope of the petition while in other California communities Korean and Chinese voter guides warned of a sales-tax increases of 25 cents and encouraged voters to elect three city council members instead of two.

Ever since the Minority Language Provision was added to the Voting Rights Act the U.S. government has to ensure that “all information that is provided in English also must be provided in the minority language as well. This covers not only the ballot, but all election information- voter registration, candidate qualifying, polling place notices, sample ballots, instructional forms, voter information pamphlets, and absentee and regular ballots- from details about voter registration through the actual casting of the ballot, and the questions that regularly come in the polling place.” While it is obviously not easy to find and maintain qualified poll workers and translators who can satisfy the incredible demand during election season, it seems nonetheless surprising that so little emphasis is placed on the quality control of government publications. The last translation error in the city of Arcadia alone reportedly cost taxpayers around 10,000$ and stresses the importance of rigorously checking voting materials so that Chinese-speaking voters are not asked again to enter their “last 4 nuclear submarines” instead of the last 4 digits of their social security numbers.

Simply put, voting is a fundamental right, and no citizen should be denied the right to vote because they have difficulty understanding English. Although the citizenship exam requires individuals to demonstrate a certain level of English proficiency, it may not be substantial enough to enable voters to decipher the complexities inherent in a ballot initiative or the intricacies of a particular candidate’s policy positions. Furthermore, outside of the citizenship exam’s English language requirement, certain individuals are exempt from English literacy requirements when applying for citizenship, including older applicants who have resided in the United States for an extended period of time and persons who are physically or developmentally disabled.

Translating these materials into another language accurately and professionally greatly benefits not only those who may speak and understand only basic English, but also helps to restore voters’ trust into the election process.

At EVS Translations, we provide high quality and reliable professional election translation services in the UK, USA, France, Germany and Bulgaria. Whether you need help with ballot translations, translations of pamphlets, voter registration cards, candidate statements and video campaigns, desktop publishing solutions for election materials, website localization and optimization services, we can accommodate all your needs and deadlines. All government and election document translations are carried out by certified professional translators and reviewers to ensure maximum accuracy.

Please call us directly at 404-523-5560 or visit us at: https://evs-translations.com/.