Though voting should be a simple process, it’s undeniable that some people face more obstacles at the polls than others.
When English is not your first language, the voting process can be especially difficult. Though a controversial voter ID law here has grabbed national headlines, fewer Texans know about the state’s more obscure voting rights battle that’s threatening the right to vote for U.S. citizens who don’t speak English. Several years ago, Mallika Das of Williamson County brought her son Saurabh to the polls to help her interpret her ballot. When they arrived, Saurabh was told that he couldn’t help his mom because he was registered to vote in a neighboring district. Mallika Das was a U.S. citizen and eligible voter who wanted to exercise her constitutional right — but that day, she couldn’t properly cast a ballot. They wouldn’t let her son help her.
The Voting Rights Act permits voters who need assistance because of blindness, disability or inability to read or write —including voters who have difficulty with English — to bring someone into the voting booth to help them understand and cast a ballot. Under the law, the person providing assistance can be a child, a friend, a family member or anyone else — as long as it is not a person’s employer or union representative.
The Texas Election Code contradicts the long-standing protections of the Voting Rights Act and requires that an “interpreter” or an individual helping another individual cast a ballot is registered to vote in the same county as the person they are helping. That is unfair and is clearly in place to try to make it more difficult for immigrants to vote. This provision was put on hold last year after a federal judge ruled that it violated federal law.
Though this may seem like an obscure issue, it could affect thousands of voters in Texas alone. Many immigrant parents rely on their children for language assistance daily. But because interpreters must be registered to vote, minors aren’t legally allowed to interpret for their parents.