Can I Vote with a Ballot Printed in my First Language?

Ariana Solis Gomez

Ariana Solis Gomez

How do you make your voice heard in U.S. elections if English is not your first language? Ariana Solis Gomez explains how to get language assistance when voting.


The Right to a Translated Ballot

According to the U.S. Census, there are communities throughout the United States in which nearly a third of the residents speak English less than “very well.” This language barrier can be daunting for potential voters who want to make their voices heard in American elections. 

One way to facilitate electoral participation is to have ballots available in a voter’s preferred language. Are you eligible to vote with a ballot printed in a language other than English? Yes, if you live in a jurisdiction that meets the requirements set forth by federal law, ballots must be made available in languages other than English, and language translation assistance is required at the polls for any voter who requests it. 

Meet Ariana Solis Gomez - Her DEI strategies strengthen democratic participation

Ariana Solis Gomez is the Senior Vice President and Group Account Director at Culture ONE World. She develops strategies with a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion as she works with national organizations to reach diverse communities. Ariana joins U.S. Vote Foundation (US Vote) to discuss the conditions under which language assistance may be provided to voters.


Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 provides language assistance for voters who live in communities with significant language diversity. Ariana, could you unpack the threshold that must be met to ensure voting districts make language access provisions for voters?

Ariana Solis Gomez

Providing language assistance to limited-English proficient voters through bilingual ballots, oral interpretation, and written translations of voting materials is a crucial step in promoting inclusivity and supporting diverse communities. However, it is essential to note that non-English ballots are not currently required nationwide. 

Under Section 203, a jurisdiction must meet specific criteria, such as having more than 10,000 or over 5 percent of the total voting age citizens who are members of a single language minority group, have depressed literacy rates, and do not speak English very well, in order to be covered under this provision. 

Despite the rapid growth of racially and ethnically diverse populations, voter turnout is not keeping pace with population growth. One of the reasons for this discrepancy can be attributed to language barriers. When materials are unavailable in multiple languages, it creates obstacles for voters who may have difficulty understanding the content, hindering their ability to cast a ballot and participate in the democratic process. 

Promoting language access as a fundamental right is key to ensuring all eligible voters can participate in elections, regardless of their language proficiency.


When language assistance is provided, community members with limited English proficiency may feel more confident participating in elections, ranging from local school board elections to national presidential races. What impact does this civic involvement tend to have on these voters and their communities?

Ariana Solis Gomez

The impact of civic involvement on voters with limited English proficiency and their communities is significant and far-reaching. 

Research has shown that when community members with limited English proficiency are given the opportunity to participate in elections, it can increase their confidence, sense of belonging, and overall civic engagement. 

This increased participation can lead to greater representation and support for the needs and interests of historically underrepresented communities in local, state, and national governments.

Fostering civic engagement among marginalized communities can also help promote social unity and decrease biases and discrimination.

By breaking down barriers between diverse groups and providing them with greater opportunities to engage in the democratic process, we can promote greater political representation and equity in our society, where everyone has a voice and a stake in shaping our collective future.


Could you share some examples of where ballot translation is happening, and in which languages? 

Ariana Solis Gomez

In California, the Secretary of State offers voter information and assistance in nine languages, including Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese. 

In New York City, ballot translations are available in Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Bengali, and Haitian Creole. 

And in Florida, bilingual ballots and election materials are available in Spanish and English in certain counties.


In addition to translating printed ballots, some municipalities may provide audio assistance options for voters. What else can communities do to bridge a language divide and encourage political participation?

Ariana Solis Gomez

There are several other ways to bridge the language divide and encourage political participation among immigrant communities:

- Offer voter education programs: Many immigrant communities may not be familiar with the voting process and the different candidates or issues on the ballot. Voter education programs can explain the process and provide information about the candidates and issues in different languages.

- Partner with community organizations: Partnering with community organizations and advocacy groups that serve immigrant communities can help build trust and encourage participation. These organizations can help promote voter registration and provide information about polling locations and voting rights.

- Train bilingual poll workers: Having bilingual poll workers can make it easier for non-English speakers to vote and feel more comfortable at the polls. Providing training to poll workers on how to interact with non-English speaking voters can also help improve the voting experience.

- Conduct outreach in multiple languages: To reach immigrant communities, it is important to conduct outreach in multiple languages. This can include translated voter registration forms, outreach materials, and social media campaigns.

- Monitor social media for mis- and dis-information campaigns and provide fact-checking online: Non-English speakers are particularly vulnerable to digital and social media misinformation campaigns. Hispanics, for example, rely on digital channels for political information. High rates of false information and a lack of content monitoring in languages other than English contribute to the infodemic. Fact-checking can help prevent the spread of false information, leading to informed decision-making.


Which language minority voting rights do you think are most important for potential voters to know about?

Ariana Solis Gomez

All of them! 

Civic engagement starts with education. Eligible voters should know their rights to participate confidently in the democratic process. The more our voters know, the better equipped they will be to understand the voting process and make informed decisions. 

By raising awareness and advocating for voter rights, we can help promote a more inclusive and representative democracy.


The Pew Research Center reveals that “Immigrant voters are older, less proficient in English and live in households with higher incomes.” Naturalized citizens made up one in ten of the American Voter Eligible Population (VEP) in 2020. 

With your background in diversity, equity and inclusion, what strategies would you suggest for voters who face language barriers but don’t live in a jurisdiction covered by Section 203?

Ariana Solis Gomez

Although Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act does not cover all jurisdictions, we can still play a crucial role in supporting our communities by becoming allies. 

One effective way to do this is through outreach and partnerships with community-based organizations and advocacy groups that serve our immigrant communities. By collaborating with these trusted voices, we can tap into valuable resources for language assistance and provide accurate information to educate voters and promote civic engagement. 

To achieve true inclusivity and ensure every eligible voter can exercise their right to vote, we must adopt community-centric strategies that prioritize language access. By working together with our allies, we can break down language barriers and empower all members of our community to participate in the democratic process.

US Vote encourages voters needing language assistance to ask local election officials for help. If you need language assistance due to a disability, US Vote’s Resource for Voters with Disabilities contains information about accommodations and rights that may improve your voting experience. If you create a Voter Account at US Vote, you can securely store all of your voting information instead of starting the process all over again each time you need to generate voting forms.