For First Time, Filipino Voters Get a Bilingual Ballot in San Francisco

For the first time in the city's history, San Francisco is providing a bilingual English and Filipino-language ballot this November.

For the first time in the city's history, San Francisco is providing a bilingual English and Filipino-language ballot this November. (San Francisco Department of Elections)

This November, Filipino-language voters will be able to use a bilingual English and Filipino ballot for the first time in San Francisco history.

But only 5 percent of the city’s 24,100 Filipino-speaking residents are registered to vote, and only 62 have registered since the San Francisco Department of Elections made the announcement in May.

The rollout of the ballot comes after San Francisco certified Filipino under the city’s Language Access Ordinance (LAO) in 2014, making it the first language affected by the ordinance.

In addition to the bilingual ballot, voters on Nov. 3 will see signage at polling places in Filipino, can receive voter information in Filipino and will have access to bilingual Filipino-American poll workers.

“The purpose of the Language Access Ordinance is to ensure that Limited English Proficient (LEP) individuals have meaningful access to the same level of information and services available to all City residents, workers and visitors,” said Adrienne Pon, executive director of the San Francisco Office of Civic Engagement & Immigrant Affairs, in an email.

Before Filipino was certified under the LAO, bilingual Filipino material existed only for ranked-choice voting, statewide voting and facsimile ballots, which are used as reference tools during the voting process.

An exit poll conducted by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund found that after the 2012 presidential election, language assistance and bilingual ballots were needed to ensure that Asian-Americans who identify as LEP are not discouraged from voting.

Forty-two percent of all Filipino-speaking residents in San Francisco identify as LEP.

“This will hopefully increase access to timely and accurate information so that the Filipino Limited English Proficient community will have the same opportunity to be informed and participate as do residents who speak English as a first language,” said Pon. “This will also help inform City Departments of the  language needs and preferences of the local Filipino community.”

Voters will be able to choose among ballots in English and Chinese, English and Spanish, and English and Filipino — a huge change from what previously was a single trilingual ballot with content in all three of the city’s official languages.

After Filipino was certified, the Department of Elections determined that having three separate bilingual versions of the ballot would make them easier for people to read.

San Francisco Department of Elections workers sort stacks of vote-by-mail ballots.
San Francisco Department of Elections workers sort stacks of vote-by-mail ballots. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“That will be the most noticeable change for our voters this election,” said Jill Fox, outreach manager at the San Francisco Department of Elections. “This is giving the opportunity to those who prefer their election material in Filipino. They now have that available.”

All city departments that interact with the public are required to  implement Filipino by Dec. 31.

San Francisco’s Office of Civic Engagement & Immigrant Affairs uses data from the American Community Survey to determine if a language should be certified under the LAO.

The ordinance, which was passed in 2009, set a threshold of 10,000 Limited English Proficient speakers — of which a “substantial number” would speak the language — to determine whether it would be eligible for certification.

Voters interested in the Filipino ballot should check or update their language preference here. If you do not update your language preference, you can ask a poll worker for one on Election Day. If you vote by mail and do not update your language preference, a ballot will be sent to you with instructions on how to exchange it for the preferred language ballot.

The Department of Elections also offers telephone assistance in Filipino at (415) 554-4310 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Author

Ericka Cruz Guevarra

Ericka Cruz Guevarra is an on-call interactive producer for KQED News. She was an intern with NPR's Code Switch team in Washington, D.C., where she assisted with production for the Code Switch podcast. Ericka was also KQED's first Raul Ramirez Diversity Fund intern, and is an alumna of NPR's Next Generation Radio project at member station KJZZ in Phoenix. She currently studies international relations at San Francisco State University. You can follow her on Twitter @erkagvra or email her at ecruzguevarra@kqed.org

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