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Native Writes: Voters rights

Posted: Friday, Aug 19th, 2011

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman announced plans Wednesday to introduce legislation that would repeal a section of the 1973 Voting Rights Act that requires jurisdictions with large populations of nonproficient English speakers to print ballots in more than one language.

He points out that applicants for naturalization must demonstrate an ability to read, write, speak and understand a limited amount of basic English, so everyone in the state ought to be able to do so. If they can’t, well, they aren’t qualified to be citizens, so they shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

Here, he makes a dangerous assumption, that all Spanish-only speakers are immigrants and naturalized citizens. Here, he needs to yank the limbs of his own family tree. Seems to me that he’s an immigrant, too.

What he is proposing effectively disenfranchises many residents of Colorado’s rural areas whose roots are generations deep and whose faces show the lines of character and dignity. Many rural elderly are citizens, born and raised here, who are more fluent in Spanish than English.

I believe he has also bought into the rapidly growing concept that all Hispanics, Latinos, Mexican-Americans, Chicanos or whatever they might be called, are probably here illegally. Like so many allegedly educated people, he sees problems at only one border, not along the line between the U.S. and Canada or any of the nation’s coasts

The fact is, even without immigration, the Hispanic population is the fastest growing group in the nation, and they tend to vote Democrat, so limiting their right to vote would ease their perceived threat to the GOP and Tea Party.

What about easing that threat by including them and making them feel welcome?

Immigrant rights advocates see Coffman’s proposal as an attempt to disenfranchise eligible voters and an attack on one of the most important rights of citizens. This may be true, but I don’t think that’s all of it.

Inevitably, the discussion turns to illegal immigration. Some well-meaning people swear the “illegals” are allowed to vote in some parts of Colorado and “dead grandma” gets up to vote every four years.

One answer that makes sense to me is the issuance of photo identification cards to all U.S. citizens and asking for them at the polls. Most of us already have them in some form, so getting another is no big deal.

However, that will only work if voters go to the polls. With the increasing reliance on mail ballots, that isn’t happening, and it has opened the door to all sorts of abuse, from the bottom to the top. Mail ballots triggered the expensive and ugly controversy in Saguache County and it had little to do with the language in which they were printed.

My other suggestion is to limit absentee ballots to people who will actually be away on election day, are elderly or ill or are in the military, serving alsewhere, then require everyone else to go to the polls, even to vote early if there’s a legitimate reason. The savings on postage alone will pay for bilingual ballots and the potential for abuse will be significantly lessened.

Mail elections may be convenient for the county clerks and election officials, but they are also convenient for criminals, no matter what language they speak.

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