Hamtramck moves forward with Arabic election ballots.
By Simon Albaugh – Yemeni American News
HAMTRAMCK, Mich. – The City Council has voted unanimously to direct the city’s efforts toward translating election materials into the Arabic Language. Although there’s no promise that Arabic ballots would be ready before the midterm primary election, the city is beginning the process and will continue to provide sample ballots and other election materials in Arabic.
“What this is basically saying is that we will make our best effort to do what you intend, which is also to put ballots in Arabic,” said Kathy Angerer, city manager for Hamtramck. “We’ll have to work with the vendor, with Wayne County, with the State of Michigan to accomplish this.”
Before the vote, Angerer outlined the limitations and the established efforts for translating ballots into Arabic. The city manager outlined that this is not a resolution that will make the translation happen. But it will direct the city administration’s efforts toward translating the ballots.
“You have to realize that this is something that has to be ready long before election,” Angerer said. “And we’re already in April. So we’re moving forward, but we’re moving forward so that it’s correct. You know the problems we have with translation here. So please allow us the time to do it, and we might need your help to do it.”
Before the vote, only two councilmembers participated in discussing the resolution. Councilman Mohammed Hassan asked about the cost of the translation, to which Angerer could not give an exact estimate yet. Still, without a cost estimate, Councilman Hassan voiced his support for the resolution.
“It’s a good thing, I feel, to start something,” Hassan said. “I know it’s not going to go on all the ballots – just some of the ballots for those who want them. Not a bad idea. So let’s start it and see where it goes.”
Following Dearborn’s efforts.
On Mar. 22, Dearborn City Council voted to provide Arabic Language ballots for residents of the largely Arab American suburb of Detroit. The resolution eventually passed unanimously through Dearborn’s City Council after intense discussion.
Mustapha Hammoud – who introduced the resolution – says the cost of translating Dearborn’s documents should cost around $20,000. Hammoud told another newspaper that there are many budget items in Dearborn that are not as important.
The biggest hurdle for Dearborn was brought to attention by its city clerk George Darany.
“The clerk’s office has been providing sample ballots in Arabic since August of 2020,” Darany said. “The council resolution would convert those sample ballots into actual ballots that could be put into tabulators. 2,500 sample Arabic ballots were provided at the polls for the 2021 November general election. 21 were actually requested.”
Both Hamtramck and Dearborn’s city council evoked section 203 of the Federal Voting Rights Act. This section mandates that in a state or political area where more than 5% of the voting-age population
More than 70% of Hamtramck’s population speaks a language other than English at home. Almost 60% of households in Hamtramck also have at least one person with limited English proficiency, according to US Census data. Although the census doesn’t collect data on specific languages spoken in a city, the most common languages spoken other than English are “indo-European languages.”
Bangla Ballots are already available.
After a lawsuit filed by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund in June of 2021, Hamtramck ramped up its efforts to provide equitable election support for Bengali speakers. The lawsuit alleged that Hamtramck was not offering proper assistance at the polls for non-English speakers.
Although Hamtramck officials said that only ten people requested Bengali language ballots at the 2021 general election, the lawsuit that was filed alleges that the translation and availability of Bengali ballots was rife with challenges for voters. In some instances, only Republican ballots were available, or poll workers who weren’t properly trained to assist Bengali-speaking voters.
Still, the number from the 2021 general election compares to just two people who ever requested a Bengali ballot between 2012 and 2020.
Councilmember Adam Albarmaki first introduced the resolution as a way to ensure that every resident who’s eligible to vote can be included in the democratic process.
“It’s crucial for our resident to feel included and for our city officials to take the necessary steps to make our city more inclusive,” Albarmaki told the Yemeni American News. “We cannot expect to move in the right direction with democracy if voters don’t understand what they’re voting on due to language barriers.