Civil rights organization files lawsuit to remove prohibition on non-English voting materials in Iowa. At minimum, requests court allow government officials to provide translated voting materials to voters with limited English proficiency.

DES MOINES, Iowa – The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Iowa filed a lawsuit that challenges the state’s “English-only Law” on Wednesday. The group is suing the state for the failure to provide non-English election materials to voters with limited English proficiency.

The lawsuit focuses on an exception to the law passed in 2008, which allows translated materials if they are “necessary to secure the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America or the Constitution of the State of Iowa.”

“The right to vote is clearly guaranteed by our state constitution, the U.S. Constitution and federal law,” explained Nick Salazar, LULAC Iowa State Director. “Congress has already determined that native-language voting materials are needed to secure voting rights for voters with limited English-language skill. Legally the English-only Law doesn’t apply to voting materials.”

In July, LULAC Iowa filed a petition for declaratory order to the Iowa Secretary of State, Paul Pate seeking clarification of the English-only Law related to election materials. Pate’s office responded that his office is prohibited from using non-English voter registration forms but didn’t address whether use of non-English language forms is necessary to “secure the right to vote.”

LULAC says more than eight percent of Iowans predominantly speak languages other than English and Spanish speakers are the largest language minority in Iowa.

“Iowa has over 50,000 citizens eligible to vote who predominantly speak Spanish. The English-only Law has been used as a vehicle to promote racism in Iowa,” said Joe Henry, Political Director for LULAC Iowa. “Those who voted for it and signed it into law should have known that it could be weaponized to attack our Latino and immigrant communities. Clearly this was the intention of then legislator Steve King when he sued to end the practice of translating ballots and other voting materials.”

The lawsuit names Pate, the Iowa Voter Registration Commission, and auditors from four counties whose 2008 officials joined (then) U.S. Representative Steve King as plaintiffs to challenge then Secretary of State Michael Mauro’s decision to keep providing voter materials in Spanish, Laotian, Bosnian, and Vietnamese. Iowa’s English-only Law was signed by (then) Governor Tom Vilsack in 2002.

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