The Minneapolis City Clerk’s Office is encouraging the City Council to promote an initiative that would station professional translators at polling places. If the City Council agrees, it will propose the idea to the state Legislature when its session begins in January.
Minneapolis currently provides voter information materials in four languages: English, Somali, Spanish and Hmong. Minnesota law also allows voters to bring an interpreter to the polls or to ask an on-site elections judge for translation assistance.
However, Minneapolis doesn’t have enough elections judges to adequately meet every voter’s translation needs. To become an elections judge, one must fulfill a number of stringent qualifications. Additionally, by law, each polling site must have one judge from each political party.
We would support a proposal to station interpreters at polling sites. Minneapolis is becoming more diverse, with linguistic and cultural minorities playing an increasingly important role in elections.
Those opposed to the idea of professional translators argue that the state shouldn’t fund such a potentially expensive initiative. However, we believe it’s unlikely that many areas outside the Twin Cities metro would need to hire many interpreters. Beyond the metro area, costs would likely be minimal.
Ultimately, we also believe that voters who cannot speak English may face obstacles before they even reach the polls. Therefore, to help increase voter accessibility, we urge lawmakers to consider what else could be done to help non-English speakers to vote.