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About Language Minority Voting Rights

The Language Minority Provisions of the Voting Rights Act

Congress enacted the language minority provisions because it found that:

[T]hrough the use of various practices and procedures, citizens of language minorities have been effectively excluded from participation in the electoral process. Among other factors, the denial of the right to vote of such minority group citizens is ordinarily directly related to the unequal educational opportunities afforded them resulting in high illiteracy and low voting participation. The Congress declares that, in order to enforce the guarantees of the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the United States Constitution, it is necessary to eliminate such discrimination by prohibiting these practices, and by prescribing other remedial devices.

Legal Requirements

The language minority provisions of the Voting Rights Act require that when a covered state or political subdivision provides registration or voting notices, forms, instructions, assistance, or other materials or information relating to the electoral process, including ballots, it shall provide them in the language of the applicable minority group as well as in the English language.

The requirements of the law are straightforward: all election information that is available in English must also be available in the minority language so that all citizens will have an effective opportunity to register, learn the details of the elections, and cast a free and effective ballot.

Covered Jurisdictions

Covered jurisdictions are determined by the Census Bureau based upon a formula set out in the Voting Rights Act. The most recent determinations for Section 203 were made on October 13, 2011.

Covered language minorities are limited to American Indians, Asian Americans, Alaskan Natives, and Spanish-heritage citizens - the groups that Congress found to have faced barriers in the political process.

Section 203 Coverage Formula

A jurisdiction is covered under Section 203 where the number of United States citizens of voting age is a single language group within the jurisdiction:

  • Is more than 10,000, or
  • Is more than five percent of all voting age citizens, or
  • On an Indian reservation, exceeds five percent of all reservation residents; and
  • The illiteracy rate of the group is higher than the national illiteracy rate

Guidance for Local Officials

The Civil Rights Division offers guidance to local election officials on how to comply with language minority provisions. These guidelines are entitled "Implementation of the Provisions of the Voting Rights Act Regarding Language Minority Groups." 28 C.F.R. Part 55.

Language Minority Guidelines Online:    2011 amendments      Updated version

Language Minority Brochure

The Division has published a plain language brochure that offers practical steps for achieving compliance. These brochures are also printed in the following languages:

  En Español   Chinese   Japanese   Korean   Vietnamese   Tagalog

Outreach

In addition to guidelines, brochures, and correspondence, the Division has held meetings with state and local election officials and minority community members in jurisdictions to explain the law, answer questions, and work to foster the implementation of effective programs.

Investigation of Language Minority Cases

The Division requests voter registration lists and bilingual poll official assignment data from covered jurisdictions. The Division seeks to identify polling places that appear to have large numbers of language minority voters and ascertain whether these polling places are served by a sufficient number of bilingual poll officials.

The Division also looks at the full range of information provided by covered jurisdictions to voters in English - not just the ballot and election pamphlets themselves, but also newspaper notices required by state law, website information, and other election information - and seeks to determine whether the same information is being made available to each language minority community and whether the translated materials are actually provided in polling places and made available to voters.

The Division monitors elections as needed to determine whether programs are being implemented as required by the Voting Rights Act.

Litigation

The Division, when necessary, has filed litigation to enforce the languge minority requirements.

General Information Voting Section
Contact

Toll-free - (800) 253-3931
Telephone - (202) 307-2767
Fax - (202) 307-3961
Email - voting.section@usdoj.gov
Web - Complaint form
Mailing Contact

Voting Section
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
Room 7254 - NWB
950 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20530

Redistricting Census Information
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