MALDEF

MALDEF Urges Texas Secretary of State to Re-Issue Language Assistance Guidance to County Election Officials in Light of Recent Comments

November 12, 2009

SAN ANTONIO, TX – Today, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization, called on Secretary of State Hope Andrade to re-issue guidance to county election officials regarding their obligations under the Voting Rights Act and Texas Election Code to provide assistance to language minority voters.

MALDEF is deeply concerned over reported comments made by Melinda Nickless, Assistant Director of the Secretary of State’s Election Division, to local election officials at a pre-primary seminar in Austin for Republican and Democratic county chairs. The comments undermined the importance of providing assistance to voters and may result in counties failing to meet their federal and state obligations. For example, Nickless instructed election officials to ask voters to wait for an interpreter to travel to the polling place to provide assistance. In fact, the Secretary of State’s Office requires that when counties cannot provide an interpreter at a polling place, they must provide interpreters by telephone.

Nickless further stated that the law “requires us to speak English at all times” at the polling place; that statement is flatly untrue. Furthermore, Nickless joked that officials should train their election judges to speak slowly and loudly, in broken English, to voters who require language assistance.

“The comments were wrong on the law,” explained Nina Perales, MALDEF Southwest Regional Counsel. “Nickless mischaracterized federal and state requirements to assist voters who are English language learners. Worse than her ignorance, Nickless mocked Spanish speaking voters and demeaned their right to cast a ballot on equal terms with other voters,” continued Perales.

Luis Figueroa, MALDEF Legislative Staff Attorney, stated: “MALDEF applauds the immediate actions taken by Secretary of State Hope Andrade to condemn the disparaging comments and we hope that the Secretary of State will re-issue her guidance materials to counties and send a strong message that the language minority assistance requirements, under federal and state law, should be taken seriously.”

The Secretary of State Election Division guidance materials on minority language assistance were last distributed to counties in June 2008 and are available at http://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/laws/advisory2008-06.shtml.

For all media inquiries, please contact Laura Rodriguez.

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund