Dallas County election ballots are changing. Now, they’ll be in Vietnamese, too.
Dallas County will soon become the third county in Texas required to offer voting materials in Vietnamese and recruit poll workers who speak the language. That’s after the Census Bureau issued its twice-a-decade determinations of voters’ language needs in local election jurisdictions across the country.
Every Texas county is required to offer elections information in Spanish and English under the Voting Rights Act.
Now, Dallas joins a small list of counties in Texas required to offer elections information in languages other than Spanish and English.
Frederick Tran, a board member for the progressive Vietnamese American organization Pivot, said the language accommodations will allow more Vietnamese-speakers in Dallas County to confidently and independently vote.
“Suddenly, it’s something that people can do on their own, they don’t have to have a family getting off work to come with them and go to the polls to vote, it’s just all there, they can understand it,” Tran said, who lives in Dallas.
Pivot, the organization Tran works with, also works to combat misinformation and disinformation in Vietnamese American communities, which he says can run rampant when there is limited access to reliable election information. Now, Vietnamese-speakers who have limited English proficiency will be able to read mail from election officials, or ask questions at the polls.
“If they have questions, they know that there’s going to be someone there to guide them through it in their own language that they’re comfortable with. And that person is also not there to persuade them to vote one way or another.”
In 2016, Tarrant County was directed to begin offering election information in Vietnamese, joining Harris County, which also offers Chinese language elections information.
When Harris and Tarrant Counties began offering election information in Vietnamese, Tran said Vietnamese American voter turnout shot up.
In Maverick County, where Eagle Pass is the county seat, the elections department has translators at polling locations to help speakers of Kickapoo, a Native American language.
The Census Bureau records also show Polk County will now be required to offer election information in an unspecified “other American Indian” language, in addition to English and Spanish. A worker in the county clerk’s office was unaware of the development and had no information. The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas is located 13 miles east of Livingston, the Polk County seat.
Every five years, the Census Bureau determines which “minority language groups” local elections officials must accommodate with information and assistance in their primary language.
The Voting Rights Act sets up requirements for local elections officials to offer voting materials in multiple languages based on the local population.
The accommodations are triggered when more than 5% of eligible voters in an area who have limited English proficiency and speak the same language, or when there are more than 10,000 eligible voters that meet that requirement.
There are additional rules when tribal nations are located in a local jurisdiction.
Tran said he thinks more jurisdictions should add language accommodations and take other steps to help voters who don’t speak English participate in elections. While some jurisdictions are legally required to, no jurisdiction is barred from doing it on their own.
“America does not have a national language, and I think we forget that. And to me, it’s not really a democracy if all of your citizens aren’t participating in it,” Tran said.
There are a lot of other steps to be made, to ensure Vietnamese Americans are fully enfranchised, Tran said, after new legislative maps drawn by Texas Republicans weakened the political power of the state’s growing Asian American communities.
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Got a tip? Christopher Connelly is KERA's One Crisis Away Reporter, exploring life on the financial edge. Email Christopher at firstname.lastname@example.org.You can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.