Experts: Voting should not be English-only affair

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FILE - In this Oct. 2, 2012 file photo, voters stand in line outside the Hamilton County Board of Elections just before it opened for early voting, in Cincinnati. Stock up on munchies and make sure the batteries in your TV remote are fresh. With this year's presidential election razor-close to the finish, Tuesday could be a long night. Even if the presidency isn't decided until after midnight EST, there will be plenty of clues early in the evening on how things are going for President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney. Obama has more options for piecing the 270 electoral votes needed for victory, so any early setbacks for Romney could be important portents of how the night will end.  (AP Photo/Al Behrman, File)
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FILE - In this Oct. 2, 2012 file photo, voters stand in line outside the Hamilton County Board of Elections just before it opened for early voting, in Cincinnati. Stock up on munchies and make sure the batteries in your TV remote are fresh. With this year's presidential election razor-close to the finish, Tuesday could be a long night. Even if the presidency isn't decided until after midnight EST, there will be plenty of clues early in the evening on how things are going for President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney. Obama has more options for piecing the 270 electoral votes needed for victory, so any early setbacks for Romney could be important portents of how the night will end. (AP Photo/Al Behrman, File)

Elections officials must step up efforts to help voters who do not speak English well register to vote, then actually cast their ballots, a bipartisan panel recommended in a report released Wednesday.

“Jurisdictions should provide bilingual poll workers to any polling place with a significant number of voters who do not speak English,” the Presidential Commission on Election Administration said among its series of recommendations.

President Barack Obama met Wednesday with the panel, whose co-chairs were his top campaign lawyer, Bob Bauer, and Mitt Romney’s top campaign lawyer, Ben Ginsberg.

"All of us share the belief that, regardless of party affiliation, that our democracy demands that our citizens can participate in a smooth and effective way," the president said.

The recommendation comes at a time when Republicans and Democrats are looking for ways to appeal to an increasingly diverse electorate.

The commission said it heard testimony that some states fail to fulfill Voting Rights Act requirements that communities with large non-English speaking populations take special steps to provide greater language assistance.

“Language difficulties can affect voter participation throughout the electoral process,” the commission said. “If ballot materials and election agency websites are only in English, then voters with limited English will be less able to navigate the registration process.”

At the same time, “inadequate supplies of bilingual poll workers or ballots in other languages will make it more difficult for them to vote.”

Ballots and voter guidance should reflect the needs of local communities so that “limited English proficiency should not be experienced as a limited or second-class citizenship,” the commission said. “No voter, for any reason, should be made to feel unwelcome.”

The panel pushed for “properly trained” election-day workers who “speak the language of the voter.”