GBLS’ Asian Outreach Unit helps achieve huge victory for voting rights in Boston

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Pictured with Governor Patrick after the bill signing are AOU Fellow Attorney Tram Nguyen (left) and Paralegal Huong Phan (right) with Asian-American voters and community activists.

On July 15, 2014 in Boston’s Chinatown, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law House Bill 4089, “An Act Relative to the Preparation of Certain Bilingual Ballots in the City of Boston.” The law permanently mandates that Chinese and Vietnamese ballots be available for all elections in the City of Boston. GBLS’ Asian Outreach Unit (AOU) along with a coalition of community organizations including the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA) and Chinatown Resident Association (CRA) worked for years to implement and maintain bilingual ballots.

“It has been an honor for Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) to represent Chinese American and Vietnamese American voters who are passionate about exercising their right to vote in our American democracy. Today, we celebrate permanent, fully bilingual ballots!” said Cynthia (Cyndi) Mark, Managing Attorney of GBLS’ AOU. In addition to representing the voters, AOU broadened the coalition of supporters for the bill.

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AOU Managing Attorney Cyndi Mark celebrated with a client
after the bill was signed into law.

“This issue is personal to me, as I have many family members who naturalized, are limited English-proficient, and who need these ballots to fully participate in the democratic process. My family’s story is only just one of the thousands of similar stories that stem from the Vietnamese American community in Boston,” said AOU Paralegal Huong Phan, a Dorchester resident and steering committee member of the Dorchester Organizing and Training Initiative (DOT-I).

This groundbreaking bill was championed by local and state elected officials including Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, Senator Anthony Petruccelli, and Representative Aaron Michlewitz. It was passed by both the House and Senate on July 8, 2014 with full endorsements from Elections Department Commissioner Geraldine Cuddyer, the Boston City Council, Senators Sonia Chang-Diaz and Linda Dorcena Forry, and Representative Dan Hunt.

The bill passage marks the first time in history when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and City of Boston will permanently provide fully-translated bilingual ballots in English and Chinese and in English and Vietnamese to polling sites in Boston where there is a concentration of these linguistic populations.

The Coalition to Protect Asian American Voting Rights, and its member organizations including CPA, CRA, and the Dorchester Organizing and Training Initiative (DOT-I), renewed its efforts this legislative session to ensure that American citizens of Chinese and Vietnamese origin have full and equal rights to the democratic process after the original home rule petition expired in December 2013.

Bilingual ballots are most needed by the growing population of elderly Asian-American citizens who have had difficult learning English and who need these ballots in order to vote freely and independently. There are currently more than 5,000 eligible voters in Boston who are limited-English-proficient whose primary language is Chinese and more than 2,600 eligible voters whose primary language is Vietnamese.

Please click here to read the related Dorchester Reporter article that quotes GBLS Paralegal Huong Phan.