Language Barriers

U.S. citizens who immigrated to the United States from non-English-speaking countries may find English to be a difficult language to master. Many refugees coming from poor or war-torn places may have lacked access to formal education and are not competent in their own language, and now face the challenges of learning another language.

Providing Translated Materials

In most states, providing ballots, registration forms and other voter educational documents is not required and many states have “English-only” ballots and forms.

Minnesota has voter registration forms in the following languages: English, Hmong, Russian, Somali, Spanish, and Vietnamese. Registration applications are also available in large print English and a plain English document.

The Minnesota online voter registration application is strictly in English, however, unless the registrant has translation software.

Minnesota and Language Accessibility

The language requirements for ballots in Minnesota are not clear at this time. The statutes do not explicitly require English-only, nor do they explicitly authorize other languages. The law does permit an individual to bring someone in on Election Day to help them understand the ballot, but only the voter may fill out the ballot. An election judge may assist a person in filling out the ballot if necessary.

The Secretary of State’s office noted that in many counties and areas in Minnesota with high populations of non-English speaking citizens, polling places have posters describing how to vote in different languages.

Minnesota allows anyone to vote absentee, and you can request absentee ballots online. Although the online request process is only in English, the mail-in absentee ballot requests are available in English, Hmong, Somali and Spanish.

Persisting Challenges

According to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office, the law requires all ballots to be in English. Currently, 31 states have laws or constitutional amendments making English their state’s official language. Arguments for English-only ballots and forms claim the laws prevent voter fraud. The real outcome, however, is that it makes it very difficult for newly naturalized made citizens through legal process citizens to take part in the election process.

Removing language barriers to voting and full citizen participation would be a simple and effective way to increase voter turnout and political power. Encouraging newly naturalized citizens to be trained as election judges would also empower a new group of citizens to ensure the members of their community are provided easy access to the ballot.