The Voters Of Babel
October 23, 2008, 08:00 PM
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VDARE's Allan Wall has written recently about the very different presidential campaigns being experienced currently by us monolingual English-speakers versus by those, such as Allan, who understand Spanish. His article is a follow-up to—and reinforces—what he wrote on a similar theme six years ago.

Here's a key observation from his recent piece:

[The broadcast] ads in Spanish are not necessarily even saying the same things as they are in English. But the mainstream white majority of our country is blissfully unaware of most of this. [emphasis added]

I wrote about this in 2002, ["Nuestra Gente" and the National Question in Texas] referring to the 2002 Texas gubernatorial election in which Democratic candidate Tony Sanchez was portrayed as a conservative in English ads and as a Mexican-American leader in the Spanish ads.

But don't politicians always appeal to different constituencies with different emphases? Yes, of course. But at least if they are talking the same language, the electorate has a better chance to keep up with it.

It’s preferable to have politicians lying in one language [rather] than in two languages.

So Allan is concerned about a campaign in which an important part of the discussion is happening, in effect, behind most of the electorate's back, because our naturalization requirements are now mostly honored in the breach and because our goofy myriad-lingual ballot law makes it practical for the nominally-naturalized to vote.

Another aspect of the ballot law's nation-wrecking idiocy is the sheer technical difficulty — and legal hazard! — involved in carrying it out. This is exemplified by a brief article ("Sticky Rice" versus "Oh Bus Horse" in '08? [left column, scroll down]) last year in the Advocate newsletter published by ProEnglish:

The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of bilingual ballot laws was on display in Boston, Massachusetts recently where controversy erupted over how to write candidates' names in Chinese. The problem began when Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin challenged a U.S. Department of Justice court motion to require the state to list the names of candidates on ballots in Chinese characters instead of the Roman alphabet.

The problem with using Chinese characters to reproduce the same sounds contained in a candidate's name, called transliteration, is that the characters themselves have distinct and sometimes awkward meanings that could influence Chinese speaking voters. Compounding the problem is that Chinese characters can mean different things depending on whether it is Mandarin, Cantonese, or other Chinese dialects.

Thus Mitt Romney's name in Chinese characters would be translated as "Sticky or Uncooked Rice." Barrack Obama's name would be "Oh Bus Horse" in Cantonese, while in Mandarin it might be interpreted as "Europe Pulling a Horse."

Galvin said that in addition to costing Massachusetts thousands of dollars, transliterating candidates' names into Chinese characters increased the risk of lawsuits from candidates and partisan challenges of election results.

In a rare outbreak of sanity a U.S. District Court ruled in favor of Galvin saying that candidates' names did not have to be transliterated. But the ruling appeared to leave Boston's policy of listing candidates' names in Chinese characters up in the air. So if frontrunner Hilary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination she still could appear on the ballot as "Upset Stomach" in Boston and several other cities.

The bilingual ballot provisions of the Voting Rights Act, adopted as a "temporary" measure in 1975 to remedy a lack [of] educational access among certain linguistic groups, were renewed for another twenty-five years in 2006 after the Bush Administration threw its support behind their renewal to overcome stiff opposition in Congress.

(Presumably that should actually be "multilingual ballot provisions.")

Congressman Steve King (R-IA) emphasized such technical problems in a "Dear Colleague" letter he circulated when the Voting Rights Act's reauthorization was being discussed:

Multilingual ballots increase the risk of election errors and fraud. For example, in 2000, six voting sites in Flushing, N.Y., printed ballots in Chinese with the names of the political parties reversed. Several thousand voters cast their votes using these erroneous ballots. You can imagine the disastrous potential of these errors.

As Winston Churchill said, "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." Imagine his added delight over electorates voting using materials mis-translated into their various, disparate languages!