Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Fort Bend County Signs Accord to Observe Voting Rights Act

A pair of interesting and related pieces appeared today in the online newspaper FortBendNow. One was a review of a longstanding dispute between the Department of Justice and Fort Bend County, specifically how the county conducts its elections for people who are not native English speakers. The other was subsequently filed about how the county commissioners finally agreed to sign a “consent decree” that will bring the county into alignment with the provisions of the Voting Rights Act, an act originally passed in the 60’s, pushed by the Johnson Administration.

An act that subsequently surrendered The South to the Republican Party to this day.

The original dispute came from elections conducted in 2004 and 2005 where complaints were lodged, and Justice Department personnel observed individuals being denied their rights under the VRA, rights that guaranteed that a voter who does not speak English well has the right to have a bilingual ballot, or have one translated for them.

According to the first article filed, “the proposed settlement involves a long-running effort by the DOJ to make certain that all Asian and Hispanic voters in Fort Bend County have the same ability to cast ballots and obtain election information as residents whose first language is English.”

The matter remained closed to public view, but later in 2005 the truth was revealed.

“But FortBendNow learned in late 2005 that DOJ’s Civil Rights Division had crafted a memorandum of understanding, and that Justice officials had asked the county to sign it earlier that month. Commissioners Court members did not sign it - and neither county nor federal officials has ever made the memorandum public.”

[Emphasis mine].

Part of the problem, as revealed by County Judge Hebert, was the vast volume of languages the county would have to cover.

“‘You can’t say “let’s just have a Chinese interpreter available.” There are over 300 Chinese dialects,’ Hebert said in November 2005, just after Commissioners Court voted to hire Austin law firm Allison Bass & Associates to assist the county in the Justice Department dispute.”

Giving me pause.

300 dialects?

Where do people pull these numbers from? A hat?

300 dialects?

Sure there are some "regional language usages", but 300 is a might overestimated. Twenty-one dialects is a more accurate estimate.

But really, it doesn’t even get that tough, because the dominant language, Mandarin, is not only spoken by many Chinese, it is a common second language for a majority of Chinese (Mandarin was adopted in the last century as the ‘national language’). Worldwide, 836 million people speak Mandarin.

So you would think that having one person standing by who speaks Mandarin, and maybe Cantonese, too, would do the trick and give Fort Bend County a leg up on being at least compliant with the VRA.

An E for Effort.

But no. Instead we have these numbers cast about making the whole thing seem not only impossible but an impractical imposition on the county.

Then, upon reading that the final settlement was signed today, we find that Asian languages were not even the real issue in the first place. Or maybe in the last place.

It was all about the Mexicans again.

It seems that there were some county poll workers who were “stubborn,” otherwise known as “inadequately trained” in dealing with Hispanic non-English speaking voters. The DOJ felt that the county had not done due diligence in guaranteeing that Spanish-speaking voters have the same rights in casting their ballots as English-speaking voters.

And now the county agrees.

And will do something about it.

The task is apparently a daunting one though.

“By signing the DOJ consent decree, ‘we’re agreeing basically to do those things that we try to do every election,’ Hebert said."

“Among other things, the decree includes ‘a forumla determining the number of Spanish-language precinct interpretors’ who must be hired and present during elections in Fort Bend County. The formula also determines in which precincts those interpretors must be located, Hebert said.”

“In order to follow that forumla, ‘any name that can be construed to be Hispanic, you count it,’ he said. ‘If it’s in a gray area, you count it.’”

“Hebert said that in past primary elections, which are run by the two major political parties, 'they’ve had great difficulties getting Hispanic volunteers.'”

Gee, do you think?

Do you think it is that difficult to find people who speak English and Spanish, and are willing to sit indoors all day translating at the going rate of $9.00/hr?

Has anyone even asked around?


Susan said...

One of the the things that you will discover about Bob Hebert is that he does, indeed, just make things up.

His big new plan is to combine the primaries so that the Republicans don't have to import Hispanics to work GOP polls on election day.

Were you around when Andy Meyers came up with the bright idea that the local GOP needed a Hispanic Club? Well, they met and elected Terese Raia the president of the club. So, she's Italian, but her name ends in a vowel and that was close enough. They did manage to scrounge up three Hispanics to join but they couldn't let one of them be president because .... well, gosh, they're like, you know, Hispanic.

They stayed around for about a year and then dissolved shortly after they named Burt Levine "Mr. Republican." Proving once and for all that embarrassment is a powerful explosive.

Anonymous said...

I remember when judge Ruiz's name showed up as an Hebert associate on that committee. He's as much of a boot licker as you can get.