There is voter fraud going on today, only it’s not the kind Republicans keep clamoring about. The real voter fraud is the coordinated, national GOP campaign to disenfranchise voters who favor Democrats from participating in state and federal elections. This campaign shows no signs of abating – indeed, the two main combatants for the GOP nomination are both embracing it:
As Republican primary voters head to the polls in Florida on Tuesday, both GOP front-runners have endorsed a policy that would contradict existing law and could disenfranchise millions of voters across the country.
During a recent debate, both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney supported getting rid of bilingual ballots when the topic was brought up by the moderator. “I would have ballots in English,” Gingrich said. “And I think you could have programs where virtually everybody would be able to read the ballots.” Romney agreed. “I think Speaker Gingrich is right with regards to what he’s described,” he said.
That wasn’t much of a stretch for Gingrich, who once called Spanish “the language of living in a ghetto.” Yet their glib demand for English-only ballots would require amending the Voting Rights Act and doing away with hard-won legal requirements that have existed for decades. It’s a sharp turn away from the Bush administration, which despite a spotty civil rights record filed more ballot access cases on behalf of non-English speakers than any administration had before.
“We used to have poll taxes, we used to have whites-only primaries, we used to not let women vote,” says Myrna Perez, senior counsel with the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “Policies that would make our ballots less accessible to Americans based on what language they speak would be at odds with that historical arc towards expanding the franchise.”
I’m curious to hear Gingrich or Romney explain how cutting non-English speakers out of the political process altogether will result in more Americans speaking English. What is and is not the “official” language of the United States is a sideshow designed to deliver the GOP its resentment-motivated base, while preventing certain core Democratic constituencies from voting for the opposition — it’s a non-serious answer to a serious problem.
Meanwhile, not to go all Tom Friedman here, but the current generation of American school children are growing up in a world where they have many inherent advantages over the global competition, but at least one serious disadvantage — they are not bilingual. Instead of demonizing spanish speakers we should be working to ensure our children are learning foreign languages the same way they learn English.
Coincidentally, the New York Times is debating this very issue on its Opinion page.