Election officials, voter advocacy organizations and translation experts are invited to attend the third Summit on Language Access for Voters July 24 in Washington, D.C.
The daylong meeting, which begins with an opening reception July 23, will feature discussions on a variety of language needs and workshops to share ideas, tools, and best practices for effective language assistance in communities across the United States.
Panelists representing Asian American, Latino, American Indian, Alaskan Native, and additional language communities from across the country will discuss demographic changes, the Section 203 designation process, federal requirements under the Voter Rights Act, voluntary and proactive language assistance, as well as strategies for cost-effective services. Participants will also highlight how emerging trends in election administration, such as the spread of vote centers and new election technologies, are impacting language access.
In many communities throughout the United States, there are citizens for whom English is a second language or those who simply prefer to communicate in a language other than English, said Alberto Olivas, executive director of Arizona State University’s Congressman Ed Pastor Center for Politics & Public Service in the College of Public Service and Community Solutions. When these individuals vote, United States law may afford them special language assistance.
While voting is a fundamental right guaranteed to all U.S. citizens, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for Asian Americans’ civil and human rights, says on its website that many citizens are not fully comfortable speaking and understanding English and cannot effectively participate in the electoral process. These citizens, especially those who have recently naturalized, experience barriers that prevent them from understanding voting materials, such as voter registration forms, ballots and complicated referenda issues that appear on ballots, which can discourage many citizens from exercising their voting rights.
Olivas said demographic shifts across the nation make election access training invaluable.
It’s important to revisit these issues regularly since changing immigration and refugee resettlement patterns mean that many communities may be having to learn how to provide language assistance for voters for the first time, Olivas said.
“Other communities that have been involved in providing language assistance for longer may have resources or information to share with these communities, or may be having to learn new strategies in response to a changing language profile in response to their own demographic shifts.”
About 200 people are expected to attend the free summit. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Democracy Fund Voice, and Arizona State University are the hosts and organizing partners for the July 24 event. The summit has been held in previous years, 2016 and 2017.