Texas is home to about 210,000 Vietnamese Americans, with a large portion of them residing in Dallas County. However, only 37% of the Vietnamese-speaking population in Dallas County has limited English proficiency. Considering the group’s impact on the primary election happening on March 1, the Census Bureau ordered to release of Vietnamese-translated election materials for the nearly 21,000 Vietnamese who are eligible to vote. According to the federal government's largest statistical agency, at least 5% of these voters aren’t fluent in English.
In the past, the election materials in the county have only been in English and Spanish. This is the first time a language other than the two has been offered. Dallas County is the third county and the largest in the state to come up with a Vietnamese-language service. In 2018, Tarrant County offered such service and in 2002, Harris County followed.
Nancy Tiên, a Vietnamese American who was born and raised in Dallas and works with the Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association (APAPA) told Dallas News and Votebeat that she grew up helping bilingual family members learn how to vote. Still, the language of voting was a challenge to interpret.
“Voting, honestly, is very intimidating,” Nancy said. “That’s not the most comfortable place to interface with really technical language in a second language.”
Even with English proficiency, the language on ballot measures and voting instructions can be a challenge for those who are not native speakers.
However, because the Census Bureau only notified of the required change on December 21, the tight turnaround made it difficult to recruit enough poll workers for every polling location as required by federal law. Nicholas Solorzano, a spokesman for the Dallas County Elections Department said in the same interview that this is forcing the county to rely on a phone-based translation service for most polling locations.
As a result, the county election officials plan to place Vietnamese-speaking poll workers in areas with high concentrations of people who speak Vietnamese, specifically in the suburbs of Garland and Sachse. They also consider hiring a full-time alternative language coordinator who speaks fluent Vietnamese and assists with community outreach and translation.
Tammy Patrick, a senior advisor to the elections program at the Democracy Fund, said that all counties struggle to implement new languages because elections offices often lack the resources to make the changes and do not qualify for assistance programs until the Census Bureau makes new designations. Because Dallas County has such a short timeline for implementation, the problems there are compacted.
Still, local and national advocates say Dallas County’s response to the new requirement is a good start.
Susana Lorenzo-Giguere, a senior staff attorney with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), said in the same article that it’s a good thing for a sort of stopgap measure until they can figure out where to get more people and where to assign them effectively. “Every US citizen should be able to cast a fully informed ballot,” she said. “And the way that they can do that is to be able to get that ballot in the language that they can read and understand.”
In the US, primary elections are used to designate who will be a party’s candidate in the general election in each race.