Bill to provide voting information in languages other than English fails to pass committee

By: - February 4, 2022 12:32 pm
Signs in English and Spanish direct voters to polling stations

According to the Migration Policy Institute, around 30 percent of New Hampshire residents born outside of the country have limited English proficiency. (Ralph Freso | Getty Images)

A bill to provide election information in languages other than English failed to gain the support of the House Election Law Committee in a vote that fell along party lines Thursday.

Democrats supported the measure but Republicans opposed it, and the committee recommended killing the bill. The original bill, House Bill 1442, didn’t specify how many languages the materials – including voting instructions and ballots – would need to be made available in, but an amendment offered by the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Manny Espitia, a Nashua Democrat, set the number at three languages, spoken by at least 3 percent of a city or town’s population. 

But that didn’t persuade committee Republicans the bill was a good idea. “I am concerned about the needs of people who are not fluent in English. … I’m not sure how much of a problem there is,” said Rep. Katherine Prudhomme-O’Brien, a Derry Republican.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, around 30 percent of New Hampshire residents born outside of the country have limited English proficiency, based on 2019 census data. And over 24,600 residents between 18 and 64 had limited proficiency, or 2.9 percent of that age group.

The progressive nonprofit 603 Forward called the decision disappointing, and called on the Secretary of State’s Office to make materials available in multiple languages. “Communities across our state are becoming more and more diverse by the day. It should be the bare minimum that the state steps up to ensure every Granite State voter – regardless of primary language – can read and understand election and voting information,” said Matt Mooshian, advocacy and engagement coordinator for the organization, in a statement following the vote.

The state does not currently provide ballots of voting instructions in any languages other than English, although Secretary of State David Scanlan said he wants to work on that ahead of the 2022 election. “I think that at some point New Hampshire will have minority populations large enough to justify printing the ballots in a different language, but we’re not there yet,” he said.

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s energy and environment reporter. She previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.