The Banner’s recent article on the Civic Engagement Initiative’s impact on turning out the vote in Boston’s minority communities (“Civic community partnership helps Hub voter turnout soar,” Feb. 19, 2009) reports compelling statistics on the voter turnout increase during the November 2008 presidential elections. The article rightly mentions that the city’s minority communities, such as Dorchester, Roxbury, Jamaica Plain and Mattapan were leading the electoral pack.
However, I would like to draw your attention to a Feb. 6, 2009, article published in the Metro, “Minority vote soars in Hub,” which reported a 24.6 percent voter turnout increase in Chinatown, the second highest in the city. Thus, some points I would like to mention:
First, thank you for publishing this article. The rise in voter turnout in these precincts indicates a significant shift in the way Boston will have to view politics. Informing the public about such a shift is a much-needed step in opening up a new political conversation.
Second, the majority of the above-mentioned Chinatown voters were elderly Chinese-speaking citizens. Much of this was largely due to the availability of bilingual ballots that Boston has been federally required to produce. Unfortunately, this agreement has expired (“Asian voters renew call for bilingual ballot mandate,” Feb. 26, 2009).
Your Feb. 19 article rightfully indicates that good community-based organizations are essential in the efforts to encourage voter participation. However, I would like to pose a question: What happens when a community has good community-based organizations, yet their constituents are unable to read the ballot? This is an essential question of basic voting rights.
Elderly Chinese American voters depend on the translation of ballots in order to participate in the political process, as is evident by the rising voter percentages. Without these ballots, their ability to participate will be undercut.
At the moment, a home rule petition has been submitted to the state Legislature seeking to extend both Vietnamese and Chinese bilingual ballots till 2013, with state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz and state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez as its lead sponsors and co-sponsorship from the majority of Boston’s delegation. It has been and still is an uphill battle because the general public has little understanding of languages like Chinese, which do not use the same alphabet as English.
If high voter turnout is contingent upon the ability to even read the ballot, it is easy to imagine what would happen if Chinatown were left without bilingual ballots. From the perspective of basic voting rights, this is a travesty at the very least.
We have moved a few steps forward. It would not make sense to digress in such a time of progress.