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Asian Americans Make Progress in Fight for Bilingual Ballot

BOSTON –  The struggle to make elections accessible to all residents of Boston, Massachusetts moved forward after the Boston City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to extend fully bilingual ballots to Asian American voters in the city. 

The council approved a new home rule petition introduced by Boston City Councilor Sam Yoon.  It must now be signed by the mayor and approved by the state legislature.

“The community has won the first round,” Councilor Yoon said.  “There is still more to do. The state legislature must act to ensure elderly Asian American citizens will be able to participate in our elections,” he said.

The measure approved Wednesday addresses objections raised by Secretary of State William Galvin to an earlier measure.

Earlier this year, Councilor Sam Yoon sponsored a similar home-rule petition to allow bilingual ballots in the City of Boston.  After unanimous approval by the City Council and Mayor Menino, the petition stalled in the State House.  The session ended before the legislature could act on it.

“Chinese and Vietnamese-speaking citizens should be able to participate fully and independently in our elections, and bilingual ballots are key to voter participation,” Yoon says.  “This is about voter access. We cannot take a step backwards in protecting the rights of citizens to cast a ballot independently.  We must do everything we can to guarantee confidence in our electoral system.”

Under legislation that expires this month, Boston provides bilingual ballots for Chinese and Vietnamese-speaking voters following a 2005 agreement with the Justice Department’s civil rights division.  Councilor Yoon’s measure would extend bilingual ballots to 2013.

In 2005, the US Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the City of Boston for violating the Voting Rights Act based, in part, on allegations that city poll workers were interfering with voters who spoke little or no English. The city reached a settlement agreement which called for the city to translate ballots into Chinese and Vietnamese. 

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