Georgia’s secretary of state has settled less than 24 hours after a civil rights group challenged a state law limiting the use of interpreters at the polls.
Secretary of State Robyn Crittenden agreed the state law will not be enforced for the Dec. 4 runoff, an upcoming March 19 special election or any subsequent election, said James Woo, a spokesman for Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Atlanta. AAAJ filed suit Wednesday, asking a federal judge for a temporary restraining order to bar enforcement of the state law.
“Both parties were able to negotiate a satisfactory resolution to this litigation,” Crittenden spokeswoman Candice Broce said Thursday. The secretary of state will provide immediate guidance to all county election and registration officials “to explain the parameters of the agreement,” she added.
“This law should have never been passed in the first place, but we are very pleased that the secretary of state was willing to work with us to swiftly end it,” said Phi Nguyen, litigation director at AAAJ’s Atlanta chapter. She called it a victory for all voters with limited proficiency in English who “will now have the right in every election to bring an interpreter of their choice.”
The national Voting Rights Act allows voters with limited proficiency in English or who can’t read or write to have their choice of an interpreter or assistant as long as the helper is not a representative of a voter’s employer or a union to which they may belong.
Georgia has a far more restrictive law that limits interpreters to those who are registered to vote in the same precinct as the person needing help or who are members of a voter’s immediate family. It also limits interpreters to assisting no more than 10 people at the polls.
Georgia’s law shouldn’t supersede the federal voting law as long as a federal candidate is on the ballot. But there are no federal races in the runoff. In addition, AAAJ documented problems at some polls on Nov. 6 where poll workers attempted to enforce the state law and bar would-be voters from relying on interpreters who met the federal but not the state standards.