Meeting voters’ language accessibility needs
We want voters of all language capabilities to vote the way they intend. Getting information in languages other than English is not always easy. But the need is growing in urban areas and expanding out to more rural areas.
We’ve started, as part of a project for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), to explore the challenges that jurisdictions face in meeting language access requirements under the Voting Rights Act (VRA), Section 203. It’s a fascinating — and fluid — space to be in.
Language assistance under the VRA affects voters who are Asian American, Alaska Native, American Indian, and persons of Spanish heritage who have low English proficiency. Right now, about 22 million eligible voting-age citizens are covered under Section 203. Who are they? Where are they? And how can election administrators best serve them?
We looked across all the sources we could find — about 40 that span topics from political science, to law, to studies by advocacy groups — to understand what is known now about challenges and best practices for providing voter information and education in languages other than English. From this analysis, we propose some implications for election administration and for the design of voting systems, and what the research gaps are. Some key insights include:
This landscape analysis reveals that there are lots of questions to answer about how best to support election administrators and voters. It’s an area that we could be working on for some years (which we look forward to) to answering some questions like these:
This is just the beginning of our work in the area of language access.
We developed the first white paper on this topic to understand the state of the coverage and service. We are actively seeking funding to answer the research questions above and to develop prototypes and templates to share with election officials.