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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lawsuit challenges English-only congressional ballot

By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer

A lawsuit challenging the legality of next-month's special congressional election was filed today in federal court.

The suit claims that the state's preparations for next month's mail-in election violate laws protecting voters who have limited proficiency in the English language.

The suit was filed by private attorney Eric Seitz on behalf of two registered voters, De Guang Chen and Yong Tang Xie, "who speak Chinese and have limited proficiencies with the English language."

The suit alleged that the mail-in ballots to be sent to registered voters by the state Office of Elections will only be in English and voters will separately receive "abbreviated" multi-lingual instructional materials.

"Facsimile ballots" which can be requested from the state will also only be in English, as will the instructions on how to fax the completed ballots to the Office of Elections, the suit alleged.

Absentee ballots in Chinese, Japanese and Ilocano will be available to voters but instructions on how to obtain them are only written in English, according to the suit.

After-hour efforts to obtain reaction to the lawsuit today from the Office of Elections were unsuccessful.

Seitz cited census data that show that five per cent of eligible voters in Honolulu and Maui counties are members of "single language minority groups" who "do not speak or understand English well enough to participate in the election process."

The state is required by federal law to provide bilingual ballots in Honolulu County in the Chinese, Japanese and Ilocano languages and in Ilocano in Maui county, the suit alleged.

The seeks an injunction requiring the state to remedy the alleged deficiencies in its special election plans.

The election is to fill the U.S. 1st Congressional District vacancy created when Rep. Neil Abercrombie resigned to run for governor this fall.

Mail-in voting is scheduled to begin May 10 and to be completed May 22.