Should elections bar candidates that can't speak English?

A candidate for Yuma, AZ city council, Alejandrina Cabrera, is being denied a spot on the ballot because she doesn’t speak English well enough, according to “an expert” and a judge.


]( She is, of course, appealing the ruling claiming that her constitutional rights are being violated.

While I agree with her, I thought the questions raised by this situation would make for a lively debate, to wit: [ul]Can this law stand a challenge?[/ul] [ul]Should this be the law?[/ul] [ul]If you think it should and can, how do you justify it re: the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution?[/ul] [ul]Can a state declare an official language?[/ul] [ul]Does this fall afoul of the Arizona state constitution at all?[/ul]

Any other pertinent points or issues, please discuss.

I think it’s fair to impose a minimum standard of English ability (or, come to think of it, any ability) that is necessary to fulfill the duties of the office sought. Deciding where that limit is and how it is measured is the trickier part.

The fact that this woman’s potential constituents all speak Spanish is kind of irrelevant - she would have to perform her actual duties at city hall and with city, higher government and corporate personnel in English, and at the moment, she cannot do that.

I don’t believe that anyone has the right to a job for which they are unqualified. The solution is simple: learn the skills the job requires, and re-apply (run for office) at that time.

If people thought Ms Cabrera was unqualified they wouldn’t have elected her.
Dumb conservative nanny-state laws produce dumb results.

Surely the whole point of electoral democracy is that it’s the electors who get to decide whether a candidate is qualified to do the job?

Surely you don’t trust them to get it right? :wink:

I wasn’t really thinking of it in those terms - just in a general sense of being qualified or not for a job. The non-voted-in equivalent to this happens pretty much daily up here in Québec, where someone’s ability (or lack thereof) to speak English and/or French is an actual job criteria because of the reality of the province’s population demographics.

In the recent Federal election, though, some NDP candidates ended up as Members of Parliament in various Québec ridings even though they didn’t speak any French or even campaigned at all (people moved their votes in a protest of the other choices, and didn’t expect them to actually count, I guess!) My opinion of that is that the voters got what they asked for, whether they like it or not and it would not have been acceptable to remove these MPs from office over the language issue.

The thing is, these candidates all speak English - one of the two official Canadian languages, and were being elected to the federal government, which operates bilingually. They are able to do their jobs (despite, oddly, not being able to speak to the constituents that voted for them, but as I said, I blame the voters, not the MPs for that!)

Ms. Cabrera isn’t in the same boat - she doesn’t speak an official language, and is (it is being claimed) unable to handle the language requirements of the job she was elected for (unless this city council actually operates much more in Spanish than the article says?)

I think, then, the solution needs to require some defined level of proficiency, so I guess I’m on her side on that. Could she be asked to demonstrate an ability to comprehend forms/paperwork/laws that the city council would have to work on? If she can, she gets to stay. If she can’t, she’s out. Now, as to what is or isn’t a fair test on this, I don’t know. Presumably that’s what the judge would figure out.

Don’t you have translators and interpreters in America ?
Evidently there’s no minimum standard on smarts, rationality, basic grasp on social forces or economics to become a councilman, mayor, governor, congressman or even president (at least judging by some of those who got these jobs throughout history), and it seems to me those skills are slightly more important. True, they can also be proxied by advisors, but…

As to this particular case, I would say that if the law states a candidate needs to know English but doesn’t specify or define what “know English” entails or how to determine it, then it’s a bad law regardless of other considerations.

I’m pretty sure that the US doesn’t have an official language (though I suppose it’s possible that Arizona might).

But leave that. It may be the case that the city government conducts most of its business in English, but it also appears that many of the residents conduct most of their business in Spanish. Unless a candidate is bilingual, they are going to have to use interpreters either (a) when dealing with the government on behalf of their electors, or (b) when dealing with their electors. It seems to me to be sufficient to allow the electors to decide which of those alternatives is to prevail.

It’s going to be very expensive (and distracting) to have an interpreter present with her for every interaction with the English-speakers she works with/under. Fluency in the official language should be a requirement to hold political office. After this incident, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was written into the state’s constitution.

In that case, Senator Carnahan should be allowed to hold his seat. I, for one, welcome our new zombie overlords.

I wish.
(I am a translator. We get paid bubkis, although those fancy-ass real-time 'terps do make a little more. Which is only fair, because real-time 'terping turns your brain into mush in 20 minutes flat.)

Funny but I’m perfectly OK with a district electing a dead person as a protest vote or for whatever reason they wish. I have my own standards about what makes an acceptable representative but that doesn’t mean I have to impose them on others. Let people decide for themselves.

If you’re talking about Ruth Ellen Brosseau, she speaks French fine. She was rusty back when she was elected, but last I saw of her was at the Infoman end-of-year special, and her French was quite sufficient and even fluent. Though I hear there’s some other NDP MP in the Montreal region whose French was considered dubious, and him I haven’t heard about in many months.

You should always let the voters choose who they want to represent them. In a democracy, the citizenry is the employer, so it’s the voters who get to decide what the requirements for the job are. Certainly having trouble following sessions of the city council is going to be a point in disfavour of this candidate, but that’s something we should let the voters decide.

I’ll bring up another example from Quebec. As you know, Pauline Marois’s English isn’t very good. If she’s elected premier of Quebec, she’ll probably have trouble during meetings with other provincial premiers, or governors of US states. Should she be barred from seeking the job? It’s definitely a point in her disfavour which is why we’ve heard so much about it, and will probably hear more of it during the next election campaign. But if voters decide they want her anyway, it’s their decision. She can always equip herself with a team of interpreters.


According to Wikipedia, English is the official language of Arizona.

Oh, I don’t know; that seems a little unfair for someone running for office in Uzbekistan. :smiley:

So if such a law passes, will all potential candidates be forced to pass a literacy test before going on the ballot, or just the brown ones?

And who will write these eligibility tests? Who will grade them?

Surely you mean Uzbeki-beki-beki-stan-stan.

Meh. If it’s an english language proficiency test that’s called for, there are plenty available. Universities ask for scores on applications for admission all the time. No reason why the TOEFL can’t be used.

The problem is less should there be a requirement, (there should), and more how do we administer the tests needed. Fair play would indicate that everyone should have to take the test, or nobody should lest it be used politically as a tool of the racists. While it should be patently obvious if any given candidate can speak English, there would undoubtedly be those who would require a test just to hold up a confirmation, score points, or snipe at a candidate during the election cycle. That becomes the tricky part. If we require that the forms be filled out in English, in front of an examiner, someone could be coached well enough to memorize the correct responses. Perhaps a randomly generated short answer/ paragraph question would be enough?

Banana gasoline shrimp plus millennium double take-out order ? Answer in at least 20 words.

The one question that has a factual answer is that a state indeed may legislate an official state language or languages, meaning a requirement that it/one of them be used for conducting official state business, on a reasonable basis of improved efficiency and uniformity of legal proceedings. Many have done so, some (LA, NM, HI spring to my mind) even well before the recent immigration froofraw.
However if there is a proficiency requirement in one of the official languages for achieving certain things in government, then there may be an issue if the law is not clear and uniform as to what is proficiency, what is the test and who gives it. Locally administered tests looks very suspect.

There’s a general agreement in electoral law that the * suffrage* is to be as universal as possible, but that *officeholding *may be *reasonably *conditioned. Every jurisdiction has legal or party-bylaws requirements to hold office that appear nowhere in the constitutional requirements. The key matter is how reasonable are the conditions and if they have a disenfranchising effect.