New law makes Malden second in state to transliterate candidate names on the ballot
Last Thursday Malden officials, voters and community groups celebrated a step towards assuring full access to the ballot box for Chinese-speaking voters with low English proficiency. With the passage of a home rule petition, Malden is now authorized to provide candidate names transliterated from English letters to Chinese characters – making it the next Massachusetts city to do so after Boston. Under the new law, the City of Malden will provide candidates with proposed transliterations of their names and a candidate will have seven days to modify, propose their own transliteration, or decline to have their name transliterated.
The City of Malden already provides bilingual ballots with all instructional information in Chinese and English. The City has been taking other steps to ensure Chinese-speaking voters have full access to the ballot box. This past election, the City provided bilingual interpretation at every precinct, conducted extensive voter outreach among the Chinese-speaking population and created a hotline for live support if interpreters are unavailable.
“This bill is the culmination of years of collaboration between advocates, voters, and the City. The work doesn’t stop here, but it’s a good time to pause and take stock of how much progress we have made,” said Greater Malden Asian American Community Coalition Co-Founder Diana Jeong. “It took more than a village to get here, but in particular we are grateful for the tireless work of Mayor Christenson, City Clerk Lucey, Representative Ultrino, Representative Donato, Representative Lipper-Garabedian, Senator Lewis, and all the voters who go above and beyond the exercise their right to the ballot box.”
“As a Malden resident, a community organizer, and activist with limited English proficiency, I am delighted to hear about the passage of a fully bilingual ballot home rule petition that includes transliteration of candidate names. I read, write, and speak some English but sometimes I am not 100% confident if I voted for the candidate I want. With candidate names in Chinese on the ballot, I would be 100% sure of the candidates I voted for,” said Chinese Progressive Association Worker Center Coordinator Fiona Yu.
“This important win for the voting rights of Chinese Americans in Malden demonstrates how even something as seemingly obvious as the ability to read the name of your preferred candidate on the ballot must be hard fought and hard won. This law helps Chinese speakers have the voice they deserve in our democracy and to participate in the decision-making of the community they contribute to every day. Transliteration is a critical part of language access that we must continue to fight for, especially for Asian American voters who come from diverse writing traditions,” said Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund Legal Director Bethany Li.
According to the 2021 American Community Survey, 22% of Malden households speak an Asian or Pacific Island language at home. About 40% of these households are considered to have limited-English speaking proficiency.
Officials at last Thursday’s event included Malden Mayor Gary Christenson, State Senator Jason Lewis, State Representatives Steven Ultrino, Paul Donato and Kate Lipper-Garabedian, Ward 3 Councillor Amanda Linehan, Ward 6 Councillor Stephen Winslow, Councillor-at-Large Carey McDonald and Congresswoman Katherine Clark’s District Director, Kelsey Perkins.