Language Access Resources

The Voting Rights Act (VRA) requires that certain state and political subdivisions provide language assistance during elections for certain language minority groups who are unable to speak or understand English adequately enough to participate in the electoral process. As of 2021, Federal law requires over 330 jurisdictions to provide some type of language assistance. Below are a variety of federal, state, and local jurisdiction resources related to language access for voters. 

Current Language Access Designations

Legal Context: Requirements, Coverage, and Implementation

EAC Resources for Election Officials

Translated Materials

Other Federal Government Resources 

State and Local Jurisdiction Best Practices 

Nonprofit and Academic Resources

Current Language Access Designations

Determinations from the U.S. Census Bureau are published in the federal register as required under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) (52 USC § 10503) every five years. These determinations affect federal requirements for providing voting materials and other assistance during elections for certain language minority groups across the United States. The most recent determination was published on December 8, 2021.

A jurisdiction is covered under VRA Section 203 if:

  • >10,000 – The minimum number of Limited English Proficient voting-age citizens who speak the same language is greater than 10,000, or
  • >5% – The minimum proportion of Limited English Proficient voting-age citizens who speak the same language is great than five percent, and
  • Illiteracy Rate – The illiteracy rate of Limited English Proficient citizens who speak the same language exceeds the national illiteracy rate.

This map uses American Community Survey (ACS) data to show which jurisdictions are currently covered under Section 203. Use this tool to look up language requirements by jurisdiction including city, county, or state. You can click on the page number to see a list of state abbreviations, and from here you can select a state to review. Jurisdictions can use this feature for networking purposes as it allows you to look up information by language group. Organizations can also use this data to find communities that need language assistance programs.

Language Access Designations by State

To navigate this report, click on the page number to see a full list of state abbreviations. Click the full-screen icon to see a larger view of this report.

Visit the U.S. Census Bureau for more information about the statistical methodology and Section 203 Comparison Tables for the 2021 Coverage determinations. 

 

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Legal Context: Requirements, Coverage, and Implementation

About Language Minority Voting Rights: The U.S. Department of Justice website has a concise discussion of VRA language minority rights provisions and the requirements that covered jurisdictions must meet.

Language Minority Citizens- Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act: The U.S. Department of Justice has produced a guide explaining the requirements under Section 203 for local elections officials.

PART 55 – Implementation of the Provisions of the Voting Rights Act Regarding Language Minority Groups- The federal regulations (28 CFR § 55) related to Section 203

2021 Determinations in the Federal Register: The official listing of all jurisdictions covered under Section 203 in the most recent round of determinations in December 2021.

Census Bureau Voting Rights Determination File: Files and datasets from the U.S. Census Bureau relevant to the Section 203 Determination Process in 2021, 2016, 2011, and 2002.

Section 203 Determinations Public Use Dataset: This public use data file and documentation provide the underlying calculations used to make the 2021 Section 203 Determinations.

Voting Section Litigation: The U.S. Department of Justice website lists dozens of cases raising claims under VRA language minority provisions. Common reasons for U.S. Department of Justice enforcement actions include jurisdictions that did not provide critical election-related information in a covered language and failed to provide an adequate number of bilingual poll officials who were trained to assist voters.

About Federal Observers and Election Monitoring: The U.S. Department of Justice website provides information on federal observers and election monitoring, including its historical and legal background.

Guidelines on the Implementation of the Provisions of the Voting Rights Act Regarding Language Minority Groups: U.S. Department of Justice guidance regarding how to implement VRA language minority provisions.

 

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EAC Resources for Election Officials

New! EAC Best Practices for Unwritten Languages: According to the American Community Survey (ACS) data, there are nearly 30,000 people of voting age living across 78 jurisdictions in three states (Alaska, Arizona, and New Mexico) who speak unwritten languages. This new resource was created to assist election officials with providing language assistance to voters who require oral assistance in their minority language.

New! EAC Guide to Language Access and Accessibility: Some election officials are required by Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) to produce materials in languages other than English. Election officials also must communicate understandable information to voters with disabilities that impact their hearing, seeing, speaking, reading, writing, or comprehension. This guide was developed to help election officials serving voters at the intersection of language access and disability.

New! EAC Language Access Program Checklist: This Checklist was created to ensure proper implementation of the requirements of Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act. The checklist includes information on implementation timelines, budget considerations, community outreach and engagement, requirements for written materials, poll worker recruitment and training, general best practices for election officials, and other language access resources from the EAC.

EAC Clearinghouse Brief: Language Accessibility: This brief discusses language accessibility and serving language minority voters, including those with Limited English proficiency. It aims to help election officials and other election stakeholders understand language assistance requirements that are mandated by the federal Voting Rights Act and learn how other jurisdictions have approached language assistance. This resource is available in Spanish- EAC Resumen del Centro de Intercambio: Accesibilidad a Idiomas -- Spanish.

EAC Language Access Events

The EAC has hosted language access events that have convened state and local officials, advocates, and stakeholders from language communities to discuss critical issues of language accessibility. To find event documents including agendas and presentations, visit the links below:

 

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Translated Materials

Glossaries of Election Terminology: The EAC provides glossaries containing nearly 1,300 terms and phrases used in the administration of elections in the United States. Glossaries are currently available in Amharic, Apache (Audio File), Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Navajo, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Yup’ik, 

National Mail Voter Registration Form: The EAC offers the National Mail Voter Registration Form in 21 languages including Amharic, Apache (Audio File), Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Navajo, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Yup’ik, 

Voter's Guide to Federal Elections: The EAC created a series of phrase books containing phrases commonly used in elections administration and assistance. Glossaries are currently available in Bengali, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.

Effective Designs for the Administration of Federal Elections: This 2007 EAC report provides planning processes, evidence-based recommendations, and examples of voting materials created for language groups.

14 Facts About Voting in Federal Elections: From registering to vote through casting a ballot on election day, informed voters are empowered voters. The EAC has provided answers to 14 common questions from citizens about voting in Federal elections. This resource is also available in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and English.

 

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Other Federal Government Resources 

Interagency Working Group on Limited English Proficiency (LEP):  The mission of LEP.gov is to provide resources to expand and improve language assistance services for individuals with Limited English proficiency.  The LEP offers a wealth of information, including multilingual materials, data and language maps, guides, and language access planning resources.

Bilingual Voting Assistance: Selected Jurisdictions’ Strategies for Identifying Needs and Providing Assistance: The U.S. Government Accountability Office produced a report in 2008 evaluating services provided to language minority voters.

 

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State and Local Best Practices

Alaska

Alaska Division of Elections 

About Language Assistance: Alaska’s Division of Elections website contains information about hiring bilingual poll workers, translated election materials as well as audio translations of election information and translated Public Service Announcements.

California

California Secretary of State

Language Requirements: Voting Rights Act, Section 203 Language Minority Determinations Memo: The California Secretary of State provided a memo to all County Clerks/ Registrar of Voters outlining changes from Section 203 determinations applicable to counties in California.

Language Accessibility Advisory Committee: The Language Accessibility Advisory Committee (LAAC) was established in 2016 to advise the Secretary of State (SOS) on issues related to language accessibility of elections and election materials. The mission of the LAAC is to advise and assist the SOS with implementation of federal and state laws relating to access of the electoral process by limited English proficiency voters, so that all voters can understand the voting process. The LAAC also provides recommendations identifying and prioritizing activities, programs, and policies to ensure every voter has equal access to the ballot.

Los Angeles County

Multilingual Services Program: The Los Angeles County Multilingual Voter Services program was established to provide services to voters who need language assistance. Services include translated election materials, bilingual assistance at vote centers, and a bilingual assistance hotline.

Orange County

2020 Voting Rights Act Compliance and Bilingual Outreach Update: This report entails extended outreach plans for bilingual communities including four federally mandated languages—Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, and Chinese. In addition, Orange County offers assistance in Persian (Farsi), Gujarati, Hindi, Japanese, and Tagalog, as determined by the Secretary of State. The corresponding press release can be found here.

Merced County

Merced County Registrar of Voters Office-2019 Clearinghouse Award Winner: During the 2019 elections, Merced County utilized their new Multilingual Virtual Poll Worker Program (MVP) to assist voters who are deaf by providing a direct iPad-based connection to American Sign Language interpreters. The MVP may also be used to provide interpreters for dozens of languages.

Colorado

Denver County

ACCESO (Spanish Language Voting Advisory Committee): Acceso ("access" in Spanish) is a committee that assists the Clerk and Recorder and the Director of Elections in their outreach efforts to Denver's Limited-English, Spanish-speaking citizens.

Florida

Florida Department of Elections 

Language Assistance for Voting: Florida’s Division of Elections website contains information about language assistance resources and counties subjected to language requirements under the Voting Rights Act.

Bilingual Requirements and Best Practices in Florida: The Florida Department of Elections provides a slide deck from 2015 that expands on using data to examine voter populations and processes for providing language assistance to voters.

Illinois

Chicago Board of Election Commissioners

Chicago Board of Election Commissioners: The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners created a website available in English, Spanish, Polish, Chinese, Hindi, Korean and Tagalog.

Maryland

Maryland Department of Human Resources 

Language Access Toolkit: The Maryland State Government offers a toolkit of practical strategies and examples for developing language access within agencies and jurisdictions that serve Limited English Proficient residents.

Montogomery County Board of Elections

Montgomery County Board of Elections-2020 Clearinghouse Award Winner: SMS texting provided Montgomery County voters with reassuringly simple, straightforward, and time-sensitive information.  The program efficiently filled gaps in the availability of services and improved the administration of an existing county program. In addition, use of separate Spanish language short codes helped ease language barriers and build trust with Spanish-speaking voters across the County.

Minnesota

Minnesota Secretary of State

Voter Outreach Materials: The Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State offers a range of nonpartisan voter education materials for use in community outreach. Outreach materials are available in English, English large print, Spanish, Hmong, Somalin, Vietnamese, Russian, Chinese, Lao, Oromo, Khmer, Amharic and Braille.

City of Minneapolis

Minneapolis, Minnesota- 2017 Clearinghouse Award Winner:  Since 1991, the Student Election Judge Program has engaged high school students ages 16 and older as poll workers on Election Day. The Student Election Judge Program serves multiple goals including increasing the number of election judges who are bilingual in targeted languages, addressing short- and long-term needs for effective, tech-adept poll workers, and increasing the ethnic and age diversity of our election judges to better reflect the face of our community.

Oregon

Multnomah County

Voter Education and Outreach (VEO) Program: The VEO Program identifies and removes barriers to voting throughout Multnomah County, especially for voters in underrepresented communities and locations.

Texas

Texas Secretary of State 

Minority Language Requirements:  The Texas Secretary of State published an advisory regarding minority language requirements applicable in all elections in Texas. State and federal laws require all voting materials to be translated into Spanish statewide and require the appointment of bilingual clerks in certain election precincts.

Harris County

Harris County Elections Administrator (TX) 2020 Clearinghouse Award Winner: Following enactment of legislation in 2009 allowing high school students to serve at the polls, the Harris County Elections Office began promoting the poll worker opportunities at high schools. Focused initially on bilingual students who could assist voters with different language needs, the Division of Elections has since expanded the program to address technological support.

Washington

King County

King County Elections and Seattle Foundation partner to fund community-based voter engagement: King County Elections and Seattle Foundation worked together to provide more than $140,000 to community-based organizations to do voter engagement with Chinese, Korean, Latino, and Vietnamese communities across King County.

Translation and interpretation resources for employees: The King County Language Access Program provides guidance and tools to departments, agencies, residents, and businesses as it pertains to accessible communications to individuals with Limited English Proficiency and barriers to communication so that all services, programs and activities are meaningfully accessible to all constituents.

 

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Nonprofit and Academic Resources

Center for Civic Design – Language Access and New Citizens: This resource provides information about designing materials in multiple languages from ballots to voter information to vote-at-home envelopes and other forms. With support from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Center for Civic Design produced a white paper in 2017, Designing Election Systems For Language Access, that detailed the challenges associated with developing language-accessible election systems. The paper discusses topics such as the legal context of language assistance, the implementation of language assistance programs, and voting system design.

AAJC - Policymakers’ Guide to Providing Language Access in Elections: This report reviews the evidence of the benefits of conducting linguistically accessible elections, in terms of participation in elections and personal and social investment in a robust democracy. It describes currently applicable federal and state language assistance requirements and concludes by suggesting legislative and administrative initiatives that policymakers can advance in order to secure the deeper engagement in civic affairs of Americans who are not yet fully fluent in English.

Language Accommodations and the Voting Rights Act: Since 1975, the language assistance provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act have provided important safeguards of voting rights to racial and ethnic minority citizens. This paper articulates a theory of language accommodation within federal antidiscrimination jurisprudence and suggests revisions to key sections of the Voting Rights Act to expand coverage of the law.

Translating the Vote: The Impact of the Language Minority Provisions of Voting Rights Act:  This report examines the implementation of the Language Minority Provision and the unique set of challenges it creates for those who administer elections.

 

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