In Hamtramck, Mich., where a large Bangladeshi population is entitled to receive voting information in Bengali, very few voting materials seem to have been translated for the 2020 election. In Georgia, states and counties are passing the buck in an effort to disavow responsibility for translating the state’s voting materials, and a federal court recently ruled that neither has an obligation to do so — potentially leaving thousands of language-minority voters without the protections to which they are entitled under the VRA.
Texas has long prohibited voters from using interpreters who are not registered to vote in the same county, thereby violating the rights of language-minority voters to select an interpreter of their choice. AALDEF recently succeeded in challenging that law on behalf of an Asian American voter whose son could not serve as her interpreter because he was registered to vote in a neighboring county.
The VRA language-access provisions may seem like menial administrative issues to many, but they are crucial. Understanding how to request a ballot, where to sign a voter registration form, where polling locations are, and how to mark a ballot are all fundamental to voting. For many Asian Americans, language access is the difference between having their voices heard and being excluded from the democratic process.
In light of the rising number of hate crimes against Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the recent mass shooting in Atlanta, AALDEF’s work — including its voting rights work — is more important than ever. Ensuring that Asian American voices are heard in every facet of our democratic system is crucial to overcoming the scourge of bigotry and ensuring accountability for elected officials who promote racist stereotypes about Asians and Asian Americans.
My journey as a voting-rights advocate is just beginning and I plan to continue it starting this year with the fight for fair redistricting maps that will determine representation for the next decade.
My family came to this country, as do so many immigrants, seeking opportunity and the promise of a better life. America doesn’t always live up to that ideal. At its worst, this country has treated those who look different, practice different religions, or speak different languages as outsiders. But at our best, we’ve recognized that fulfilling America’s promise requires building a democracy that includes all of us. As someone who once felt like an outsider, it’s hard to think of anything more important.
About the author
Aaron Mukerjee is a 2016 Harvard College graduate and third-year law student at Harvard Law School. Learn more about the HLS Voting Rights Litigation and Advocacy Clinic at https://hls.harvard.edu/dept/clinical/voting-rights-litigation-clinic/