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Vol. 72/No. 21      May 26, 2008

Chinese, Vietnamese immigrant workers pack
Boston hearing to defend bilingual ballots
BOSTON—More than 300 people packed a city council hearing here May 5 to support a law that would make bilingual Chinese-English and Vietnamese-English voting ballots permanent. They sported stickers saying “Support bilingual ballots!” in English, Chinese, and Vietnamese, and many had headsets on to hear translation into Cantonese or Mandarin.

“Bilingual ballots allow voters to vote privately,” said Caroline Chang of the Coalition for Asian American Voting Rights, and the managing director of the Chinese Historical Society of New England.

“We don’t want the clock turned back,” said Lydia Lowe, executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association, which helped mobilize the turnout.

Chinatown resident Henry Lee said “Every line, every word should be transliterated, including the name.” Transliteration is the practice of writing names phonetically in another alphabet. While ballots appeared in Chinese in 2006, candidates’ names were not put in Chinese characters until 2007. Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin has opposed transliteration, claiming it could result in confusion.

“Voters already know candidates by their transliterated names,” said Lang, noting that such names are commonly used in the Chinese-language press.

“My party will be proud to have our candidates’ names transliterated,” said Laura Garza, who spoke at the hearing on behalf of the Socialist Workers Party. “This is part of forging the kind of unity in our class that is necessary to stand up against the bosses who abuse us.”

Bilingual ballots and an increase in bilingual poll workers were the result of an August 2005 agreement with the city of Boston following a Department of Justice lawsuit. The lawsuit came after an investigation of complaints of violations of basic voting rights, including poll workers who tried to steer voters to vote for particular candidates.

In an effort to maintain these gains, supporters are working to pass a law to ensure the permanent use of bilingual ballots.
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