By Tom Robb
Two new languages will be added to ballots in the March 2020 Presidential Primary Election in Cook County, with six more languages added by the November 2020 General Presidential Election, backed by a unanimous vote by Cook County commissioners.
County commissioners Scott Britton (D-14th) and Kevin Morrison (D-15th), both who represent parts of the North and Northwest suburbs, were lead sponsors of Voting Opportunity and Translation Equity, or VOTE ordinance.
Currently, ballots and voting instructions are available English, Spanish, Chinese and Hindi. The ordinance, passed unanimously by commissioners at their Oct. 22 meeting, mandates ballots and other election materials be made available in Korean and Tagalog (spoken by Filipinos) in the March 2020 election, and in the Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, Arabic, Gujarati, and Urdu languages for the November 2020 election.
Gujarati is spoken in India, Bangladesh, Fiji, Kenya, Malawi, Oman, Pakistan, Reunion, Singapore, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, along with communities in the United States and United Kingdom.
Beginning in 2021 elections, ballots and election materials will be fully translated into any languages where a community of 13,000 people or more with limited English proficiency exist within Cook County.
Britton said he was approached as a candidate by Sik Son, president of the Korean-American VOICE organization, who told Britton members of the Korean community were eager to vote but some struggle with language.
Britton said leaders of the Korean community approached former County Commissioner Gregg Goslin (R-14th) in past years, but did not see Goslin take any action.
“I am so excited. This is a historical day for our community. The language barrier has been the biggest hurdle to stop Korean Americans with limited English skills from casting their votes,” said Sik Son.
“This is about justice and equity,” Britton said. “The VOTE ordinance creates a sustainable and equitable framework to expand language access at the polls in a way that is effective, operational and fiscally responsible.”
Although Britton accused members of the Republican Party nationwide of working to suppress voter access with legislation, he said the bill is not meant to be seen as partisan.
“This is not about getting Democratic (Party) votes, we want everybody to vote,” Britton said. He said the bill had the support of both Republicans on the Cook County Board, including Sean Morrison (R-17th), who is chairman of the Cook County Republican Party.
“More than one third of Cook County residents speak a language other than English at home, and we can and should do better to empower all citizens to participate in our democracy,” Commissioner Kevin Morrison (D-15th) said. “All citizens have the right to vote and deserve equal access to the ballot. The VOTE ordinance will make our county a leader on this issue and set an example of how to create meaningful equity at the ballot.”
Parts of Maine and Northfield townships are among the most ethnically diverse in Cook County. In Glenview, where Britton lives and which is part of his district, 60 different languages are listed in School Dist. 34 as the primary language spoken in the home, district officials said.
Teachers are asking students in their classrooms what languages they speak on a regular basis so Dist. 34 officials said English Language Learner programing can be kept up to date with student population needs.
Britton said data from the next elections along with the upcoming U.S. Census data will be used to better understand the language needs of voters.