The California State Senate unanimously approved legislation that would protect integrity of ballots by addressing the use of fraudulent non-English names during elections on May 6.
Senate Bill 288, sponsored by Senator Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, would require candidates who would like an alternative language name on the ballot to be provided a phonetic translation of their name by the county elections office or by the Secretary of State‘s office.
Alternatively, a candidate can submit their own translated name if the candidate has a non-English language name by birth or already identifies by a particular non-English name within the public sphere.
The bill was proposed to prevent candidates from mistranslating their names with popular or trusted name from the other language‘s culture in order to win over voters.
An example of the opposite effect happening would be if someone born with a Chinese name tried to use a name like Barack Obama to win over voters.
“We find it disturbing that people are hiring consultants to market themselves with “good names,“ said William Schlitz, political and communication director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which supports the bill. “This bill would protect communities from manipulation.“
The AFSCME is not the only group to support the bill.
“It is important that voters are not misled. The voting public must have trust in the electoral system,“ said Patty Wada, Regional Director of the Japanese American Citizens League in an e-mail.
“This bill will contribute to voter confidence by more accurately reflecting the background of candidates running for office.“
Though there are not too many examples of past occurrences, Yee‘s Chief of Staff Adam Keigwin says the bill is mainly a preventative measure. Yee says the multilingual San Francisco does a good job of screening to make sure the transliteration of names is given in elections, something that he wants to model statewide.
“In the past a candidate in the San Francisco assembly declined to use his birth name because the candidate had used a name in a community for many years. In that case using the other name was fine because there was evidence of the candidate‘s identification with that name,“ said Keigwin. “As the number of groups who speak other languages increases, we‘re trying to make sure candidates don‘t try to win over voters with false names.“
Yee also points to these tactics hurting the electoral system in general.
“SB 288 attempts to stop the last-minute, deceptive practice of using a fake name simply to deceive Asian voters to win an election,“ said Yee in a press release. “SB 288 will help to further protect the integrity of our electoral system.“
Keigwin says the bill should matter to college students as well, citing the diversity of the UC system who want justice and fairness in elections.
Yee hopes to get the bill signed by the governor at some point this summer.
SB 288 is supported by the Japanese American Citizens League, Korean American Bay Association, Korean American Professional Society, California Labor Federation and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
The bill is currently being considered by the State Assembly.
ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.