Multi-lingual ballots are a bad idea

In the continuing controversy over whether we should have voting exclusively in English or not, one point seems to always be overlooked:  Who translates the ballot, supporting documentation, etc?  Translation is a subjective thing.  For any significant body of text, there are no two translators that would translate in exactly the same way.  The tone, use of vernacular, and subtle word choice can dramatically change a reader’s perception to a body of text.  If we have ballots in multiple languages, we can’t preserve the original author’s tone, and therefore, the original text is void.  I know that “yes”/”no” translate fairly easily; but the supporting text does not. 

If our goal is to have everyone voting fairly – on the same initiatives – then we have to distribute identical material to everyone.  Unfortunately, this means the ballot has to be in one language.  For now, that language is in English.  If the majority wants to change the language to something else, they can put up an initiative to change the language.  Whichever we pick, there should only be one.

2 thoughts on “Multi-lingual ballots are a bad idea

  • May 2, 2007 at 8:18 am

    I’ve heard that the treaty with Mexico that made California part of the United States requires that important government documents be made available in Spanish. If you want to nix Spanish ballots (and DMV tests, etc.), then the President will have to go back to the bargaining table with Mexico and get Congress to ratify the new agreement.

    True, translations can vary. But even in English, there are an infinite number of ways to phrase anything. As long as there is oversight and the election materials accurately convey the facts of the candidates and the propositions, I don’t see the problem.

  • May 4, 2007 at 6:09 pm

    I think you might be referring to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which some groups claim requires the US to “respect the culture” (including the languaage) of Mexicans affected by the treaty. I’m no legal expert, but I don’t believe this applies today. Or maybe there was some other treaty which you are referring to. If so, that might change my stance, but I suspect these are false arguments from groups that want to prevent single-language ballots.

    The “infinite number of ways to phrase anything” is exactly my point. The specific clauses of each law are subtle and have meaning. Introducing subjectivity into Section I, Paragraph 2, Sentence 4 can change the way a judge would interpret that law. If it could cause two interpretations because of the word choice, then we cannot allow it. Since word choice is subjective, I do not believe there is any way to provide “oversight” that is unbiased. I’d be interested in what process we do use today. The author of the translation has as much power as the original author of the law.


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