Arabic ballots may soon be available in Dearborn, Hamtramck

After months of effort that included a last-minute push by volunteers to ensure accuracy, Arabic ballots for voters in Dearborn and Hamtramck appear to be finally ready in time for the August primary, it was announced. officials on Friday.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in a press release that for the first time in Michigan’s history, ballots and voting instructions will be available in Arabic. The names of the candidates will remain in English, but the other parts of the ballot will be in Arabic.

The move comes after Dearborn Councilman Mustapha Hammoud introduced a resolution in March calling for Arab ballots in a city that has the highest percentage of Arab Americans among cities in the United States Hamtramck followed suit with a similar resolution in April, but it was unclear at the time time if cities and Wayne County could create them before the print deadlines for the Aug. 2 election.

Adding to the problem was a poorly done Arabic translation by an outside company under contract with the city of Dearborn, the Arab-American leaders said.

“It’s important that our democracy continues to be accessible and safe for every Michigan voter,” Benson said in a statement Friday. “At a time when there are so many efforts to divide and discourage citizen engagement, it is inspiring to see the leaders of Dearborn, Hamtramck and Wayne County come together to show that government can meet the needs of citizens and produce results.”

Compared to other large states and metropolitan areas, Michigan and the Detroit metro area has few municipalities with non-english ballot papers. In addition to Arabic ballots for two cities, Michigan offers Bengali ballots in Hamtramck and Spanish ballots in two smaller townships: Colfax Township and Fennville, Benson spokeswoman Tracy Wimmer said. In contrast, many cities and entire counties in states like Illinois and Texas offer non-English ballots in different languages.

Benson’s press release contained endorsement quotes from Dearborn and Wayne County clerks. Both were initially critical and hesitant to have Arabic-language ballots, but on Friday they were all on board.

“I celebrate the achievement of Arab ballots in Dearborn and Hamtramck for the August 2 primary and all future elections,” Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett said in a statement in Benson’s statement.

In March, Garrett wrote a letter accusing the city of Dearborn and the secretary of state’s office of being “more than negligible” how they planned to have ballots in Arabic. Garrett even asked if Arabic was eligible since the federal government does not classify it as a minority language deserving of protection under the federal suffrage law.

But in his Friday statement, Garrett said his office and the County Electoral Division “have worked hard to facilitate this historic achievement and ensure a successful outcome for greater ballot access.”

Dearborn City Clerk George Darany, who was also initially cautious and resistant to Arabic ballots, said in Benson’s statement that “the Arabic ballot is yet another tool to help non-English-speaking voters cast their votes and to make their voices heard”.

Darany added that samples of Arabic ballots have been around since 2019 and that Arabic-speaking poll workers have assisted voters for the past 20 years in Dearborn.

He estimated that delivering Arabic ballots in the city would cost at least $45,000, which includes translation, printing and testing costs.

About 47% of Dearborn residents have Arabic ancestry, and about 46% of city residents age 5 and older speak Arabic at home, according to 2020 census data. There are 16,600 Arabic-speaking residents in Dearborn who didn’t speak English very well.

Dearborn Councilman Mustapha Hammoud introduced a resolution in March to have Arabic-language ballots in Dearborn.

“I am happy to see that we were able to achieve this and appreciate the support from the state and county in helping our city pave the way for this additional accessibility and safety for voters,” Hammoud said, the municipal councilor who introduced the measure. the free press. “Allowing residents to read the ballots for themselves will reassure them that their votes are being cast the way they intended.”

After:Pushing for non-English language ballots in Michigan finds obstacles and challenges

Dearborn council had to pass three resolutions in support of Arabic ballots to help clarify how this would be done.

The city has contracted with Global Interpreting Services in Clinton Township to translate thousands of regular and mail-in ballots.

After the city received the company’s translations last month, it shared them with Arabic speakers to see if they were OK.

But the quality was at “perhaps Google translation,” said Oussama Siblani, publisher of the Arab American News, which publishes in English and Arabic. “It didn’t make any sense. Some of the translations I saw were just awful. And they needed to be fixed. … They have absolutely no idea what they’re doing when it comes to Arabic .”

Global Interpreting Services did not comment Friday on the concerns raised by Siblani and others.

Dearborn City Clerk George Darany speaks during a city council meeting on July 13, 2021

The city appointed a three-member volunteer committee including Siblani, Kassem Doghman and Ali Ajami to fix the translation in less than two days. The committee scrambled, spending long hours correcting errors.

The committee and the city decided not to translate the candidates’ names into Arabic because it was difficult to ensure they would be accurate in the translation process, Siblani said.

“It reduced the risk of having many problems on the ballots,” Siblani said.

They also initially encountered technical issues with Wayne County’s Dominion machines initially unable to read translated ballots, but the committee helped resolve that issue, Siblani said.

Darany told the Free Pres that the city, the committee and the translation company “worked hard to deliver the best possible translation despite very tight deadlines.”

Darany said that “the requirements of ballot layout, ballot language and voting equipment added to the complexity. In the end, we are proud of the final translation that everyone involved worked hard to create”.

In Hamtramck, where there is a large Yemeni American population, 38% of residents aged 5 and older speak Arabic, according to the 2020 census.

Hamtramck mayoral candidate Amer Ghalib delivers a victory speech during a campaign party on November 2, 2021 at the Yemani American Leadership Association in Hamtramck.

Hamtramck Town Clerk Rana Faraj said in Benson’s statement that she hopes the Arabic ballots will give voters “the tools they need to vote with confidence.”

Hamtramck Mayor Amar Ghalib, who was elected the city’s first Arab-American mayor last year, said: “This is a historic moment for the Arab community, especially in Hamtramck and Dearborn, and we We can’t wait to see the positive impact it will have on our community. .”

Hammoud said the next step for the city is to pass an ordinance that would establish a more permanent procedure for offering Arabic ballots for future elections.

Contact Niraj Warikoo: [email protected] or Twitter @nwarikoo

Below is a copy of an Arabic-language ballot in Dearborn’s 40th Ward.

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