County Council approves voting materials in Korean and Spanish

Monday, July 20, 2015

Fifty years after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Federal Voting Rights Act into law, the Metropolitan King County Council gave its unanimous approval to broadening the historic law’s standards in King County by requiring voting materials be translated into additional languages, starting with Spanish and Korean.

“The foundation of our democracy is the right to vote – today we strengthened our democracy by ensuring more King County citizens have the ability to access that right,” said Councilmember Rod Dembowski, the author of the ordinance. 
“Today’s significant step will increase voter participation, access, and create more informed voters. As we worked towards today’s achievement, I was honored to have the help, support, and expertise of so many community leaders that represent the myriad of cultures that will now have improved access to voting materials.”

King County is one of the fastest growing regions in the country, with a rapidly growing population of individuals who speak a language other than English. According to the county demographer, one quarter of King County residents speak a language other than English at home, and close to half of them report that no one in their households speak English well or at all.

“In America, access to the ballot box is vital in getting your voice heard,” said Councilmember Larry Gossett. “The language you speak and read should not block you from the ballot box. This legislation removes a crucial barrier to exercising a basic right of living in a democracy.”

The Voting Rights Act requires that jurisdictions provide language assistance to voters if more than 10,000 members or 5 percent of the voting age citizens are members of a single-language minority group who do not “speak or understand English adequately enough to participate in the electoral process.” For King County, this standard has required election materials be provided in only two additional languages other than English — Chinese (since 2002) and Vietnamese (since 2010).

The adopted ordinance expands access to voting by broadening the standard set in Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act to include Korean and Spanish, currently the two largest groups of limited-English-proficient (LEP) King County residents, by the 2016 general election.  Other languages may be added starting in 2017.

The ordinance also makes voting registration materials available at County offices that provide services to the public.

“The Korean American Coalition of Washington enthusiastically applauds the passing of the Ordinance and we give our thanks to Councilmember Rod Dembowski and the King County Council - this new Ordinance will greatly help members of the Korean community become informed and engaged, and will encourage greater participation in the democratic process by Korean Americans in King County,” said Thomas Lee, President of the Korean American Coalition of Washington.


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