About 49 percent of the 235 million eligible voters in the United States cast ballots in the midterm elections, which produced important wins for Democrats across the country. One of the more surprising Democratic victories was in New York’s 11th Congressional District, which includes Staten Island and parts of southern Brooklyn. There, a Republican incumbent expected to win by five points lost by six, defeated by a blue wave that also flipped a State Senate seat that had been occupied by a Republican for 15 years. These wins are due to many factors, but one of them is that naturalized US citizens, who make up 30 percent of the district, came out in record numbers.
Brooklyn’s Arab-American population, at least 39,000 strong, according to the US Census, was once considered a low-turnout community, but last week several heavily Arab precincts had turnouts as high as 54 percent, significantly above the national average. Local community organizers, who have been galvanizing civic engagement in the community for the past two years, claimed victory. “Marty Golden once said Arabs don’t vote,” tweeted activist Widad Hassan, referring to the Republican state senator. “Today we came out in droves and voted him out.”
Prior to the election, the Investigative Fund had identified 18 congressional districts where the predicted vote difference between the winning and losing candidate was less than the number of Limited English Proficiency (LEP) voters in that district who did not have federal language accommodations. New York’s 11th is one of the most extreme examples under-accommodation in the country, but local activists were able to marshal Arabic speakers to the polls in record numbers. The district’s results showed that LEP voters can determine elections, but that they face substantial obstacles in doing so.
LEP Voters Could Determine Congress
Read more about how language accommodation could swing 20 congressional elections.
Federal language accommodations are provided under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act and require elections administrators in certain jurisdictions to make all written materials available in the language of the relevant minority group and to hire interpreters who speak that language. LEP voters who aren’t accommodated in this way often have a difficult time exercising their right to vote. LEP voters have much lower participation rates than non-LEP voters, and studies have shown their participation rate is significantly higher where there are language accommodations.
In at least 13 of those 18 districts, the final vote difference between the two candidates was less than the number of LEP voters. On average, the unaccommodated LEP population exceeded the vote difference in these districts by a factor of five and a half. This means that for every decisive ballot, there were five and a half LEP citizens who couldn’t read the ballot in a language they understood and who didn’t have the benefit of an interpreter.
- “I have never tried voting in Spanish, because I did not know I could vote in Spanish.”