Led by U.S. Reps. Peter King, R-N.Y. and Steve King, R-Iowa, 56 members of the House of Representatives are urging House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., to oppose the renewal of the section of the Voting Rights Act that mandates foreign-language ballots.
The two Kings say that these ballots "divide our country, increase the risk of voter error and fraud, and burden local taxpayers."
Their letter correctly explains that foreign-language ballots encourage linguistic separatism - which would give us problems like Canada has with the French language - and "contradict the melting pot ideal that has made the United States the most successful multiethnic nation on earth."
Foreign-language ballots don't make civic sense. Only citizens can vote - at least legally. To become a naturalized U.S. citizen, the law requires that a person demonstrates "an understanding of the English language, including an ability to read, write and speak ... simple words and phrases ... in ordinary usage in the English language."
Foreign-speaking citizens have the same legal protection of their right to vote as have millions of English-speaking U.S. illiterates. They can request assistance in the polling place, or take a crib sheet or interpreter into the booth, or get an absentee ballot and obtain help translating it.
The use of ballots in multiple languages greatly increases the likelihood of errors because of difficulty in translations. In a 1993 election, New York City mistakenly printed Chinese language ballots with "no" in place of "yes," and in a 2000 election, six polling places in Queens reversed "Democratic" and "Republican."
Foreign-language ballots are an open invitation to fraud because the Voting Rights Act requires foreign-language election information, notices, forms, instructions, and assistance in addition to ballots.
This, plus the widespread availability of voter pamphlets and absentee ballot applications, gives unscrupulous party operatives countless ways to deceive voters about issues and candidates, and increases the likelihood that non-citizens will vote illegally.
Foreign-language ballots are a direct attack on our "civic unity," which the late Barbara Jordan said must be promoted by public policies that override the problems posed by our cultural and religious diversity. She added, "Such policies should help people learn to speak, read, and write English effectively." The right to vote should function as a motivation to immigrants to learn English.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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