Language Protection

What is Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act?

Despite passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a combination of governmental indolence and bureaucratic indifference continued to impede citizens of language minority groups from participating in elections. In the spirit of the VRA’s 14th and 15th amendment roots, Congress added Section 203 to the Voting Rights Act in 1975 as a statutory remedy for language-based discrimination at the ballot. According to Section 203, "Whenever any State or political subdivision [covered by the section] provides registration or voting notices, forms, instructions, assistance, or other materials or information relating to the electoral process, including ballots, it shall provide them in the language of the applicable minority group as well as in the English language." Section 203 targets language minority groups with a history of electoral exclusion, including (but not limited to) Spanish, Asian, Native American, and Alaskan Native languages.

How is coverage determined under Section 203?

Section 203 applies to “political subdivisions;” depending on the state, such subdivisions take the form of counties, townships, or municipalities. According to statute, Section 203 covers political subdivisions where more than 10,000 or 5% of voting age citizens belong to a single language minority group, have depressed literacy rates, or are not proficient in English. Determinations about which political subdivisions are covered under Section 203 are made by the Director of the Census Bureau based on demographic information from the most recent census.

In Arizona, which Counties are covered under Section 203?

As of 2015, the Census Bureau has determined the following counties are covered under Section 203 and must provide election materials in the respective languages:

Spanish

Maricopa, Pima, Santa Cruz, & Yuma Counties

Navajo

Apache, Coconino, & Navajo Counties

Apache

Gila, Graham, & Pinal Counties