Building Back Together Launches Language Justice Committee To Tackle Language Barriers At The Ballot Box

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 22, 2021
PRESS CONTACT: [email protected]


Building Back Together to partner with MALDEF, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, UnidosUS Action Fund, Priorities USA, Latino Victory Project, Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote),
LatinoJustice PRLDEF, SEIU, America Votes, and More

Washington, D.C. — Today, during Hispanic Heritage Month, Building Back Together launched the Language Justice Committee (LJC) composed of Latino and AAPI leaders, voting rights, legal, and academic experts, in partnership with MALDEF, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, UnidosUS Action Fund, Priorities USA, Latino Victory Project, Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote), LatinoJustice PRLDEF, SEIU, and America Votes. The LJC will work to tackle the language access barriers that too many Americans continue to face at the ballot box to ensure every American’s freedom to vote is protected.

The Committee’s work includes working with in-state partners to host press events highlighting existing barriers, teaching and mobilizing local organizations to report language access violations to the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, filing FOIA requests to document and compile a database on language access violations, drafting notice letters to local jurisdictions that are not fully compliant with Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, and more. The Language Justice Committee will begin with a focus on Spanish and Asian language access, and expand to include language access for Native communities during an upcoming event on Indigineous Peoples’ Day.

“For over 45 years the Voting Rights Act has provided bilingual voting materials and language assistance to ensure all Americans can cast a free and informed ballot. However, the Trump administration seriously limited access to voting for thousands of Latino, Asian and Native American citizens by failing to enforce equal language access,” said Building Back Together Senior Advisor Matt Barreto. “Now that we have a President and Department of Justice that understand the importance of equal voting rights, we have an opportunity to break down these barriers. Building Back Together is proud to partner with a coalition of activists and experts who are fully committed to elevating this issue and pushing for voting equality for all American citizens.”

“Barriers like the inadequate recruitment of bilingual poll workers, lack of multilingual signage, and printed materials that are poorly translated or dismiss dialectic nuances have too often prevented Americans from exercising their right to vote,” said Building Back Together Voting Rights Director Rubén Lebrón. “Together, we will work to hold local jurisdictions accountable and publicly catalogue any failure to do so, so that the Department of Justice and others can take action.”

Language Justice Committee Members Include: 

  • Matt Barreto — Building Back Together Senior Advisor and Faculty Director, UCLA Voting Rights Project
  • Rubén Lebrón, Building Back Together Voting Rights Director
  • Thomas A. Saenz — President and General Counsel, MALDEF
  • Terry Ao Minnis — Senior Director of Census and Voting Programs, Asian Americans Advancing Justice
  • Rafael Collazo — Executive Director, UnidosUS Action Fund
  • Aneesa McMillan — Deputy Executive Director, Priorities USA
  • Nathalie Rayes – – President and CEO, Latino Victory Project
  • Christine Chen — Executive Director, Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote)
  • Kira Romero-Craft — Director Southeast Region, LatinoJustice PRLDEF
  • Dora Chen — Associate General Counsel, SEIU
  • Carolina López — National Voting Rights Director, America Votes
  • Michael Jones-Correa — President’s Distinguished Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania

Thomas A. Saenz, President and General Counsel, MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund):  “Every modern democracy has a responsibility to facilitate informed participation by all eligible voters.  MALDEF is pleased to join this important effort to ensure that all voters who prefer informative materials and assistance in a language other than English have the ability to cast an informed ballot in every election, from local to national.”

Terry Ao Minnis, Senior Director of Census and Voting programs, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC: “Even as our communities become more engaged in the voting process, we continue to see barriers preventing full access to the ballot. A third of Asian Americans are limited English proficient, which directly impacts participation in this cornerstone of democracy. We are honored to work with fellow advocates and experts to ensure language assistance that will allow for equal access to all Americans to exercise the fundamental right to vote.”

Rafael Collazo, Executive Director, UnidosUS Action Fund: “Equal access to the ballot box is fundamental to maintaining free and fair elections. Despite record turnout in 2020, millions of limited-English proficient voters – 85% of whom are voters of color – still lack access to in-language voting materials. UnidosUS Action Fund is honored to join the Language Justice Committee and continue the fight to protect and elevate the voices of historically disenfranchised communities.”

Aneesa McMillan, Deputy Executive Director of Priorities USA: “Limited language access is one of many barriers to the ballot box that marginalized communities face. However, like most aspects of voter suppression, it’s often ignored. In our fight to create equitable ballot access, we must amplify the voices of these communities. As part of our voting rights work, Priorities USA has consistently centered this important issue, and we are proud to join our partners in the Language Justice Committee to ensure that all Americans, no matter what language they speak, have the freedom to participate in our democracy.”

Nathalie Rayes, President and CEO, Latino Victory Project: “With a wave of voter suppression bills moving through state legislatures, now more than ever, we must ensure language requirements and accessibility are met so that every voter has fair access to the voting booth and their voices are heard in every election. Latino Victory Project is proud to join our partners in this important effort to ensure Latinos, especially Spanish-speaking voters, have accessible voting places and can safely cast their ballots in an independent and convenient manner.”

Christine Chen, Executive Director, APIAVote: “When over one-third of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) have limited English proficiency, ensuring language access at the ballot box is of the utmost importance for our communities to be able to participate in the electoral process. While the Voting Rights Act guarantees language assistance, this right has not always been upheld. We must work together to elevate this issue, report violations to the Department of Justice, and secure language access for multilingual Americans once and for all.”

Kira Romero-Craft, Director, Southeast Region, LatinoJustice PRLDEF: “LatinoJustice PRLDEF has advocated for language access and voting rights for Puerto Rican and greater pan-Latino communities for close to five decades.   Our focus has never wavered because we believe in the power of democracy.  LatinoJustice remains committed to ensuring that the Voting Rights Act, language access provisions are enforced so that every voter is able to cast an informed vote.  Latinos now comprise the largest non-white racial and ethnic minority group in the country, comprising 18.7 percent of the population, including 25.7 percent of the youth population which is projected to represent 1 in 4 voters in the future.  We are pleased to be partnering with our esteemed Language Justice Committee members, with the goal of increasing voter education and participation on behalf of our diverse American electorate.”

Dora Chen, Associated General Counsel, SEIU: “I am thrilled to represent members of the Service Employees International Union and worker leaders in the Fight for $15 and a Union on the Build Back Better Language Justice Committee.  For too long, Latinx, Asian Pacific Islander and Indigenous members of our union and other working people have faced barriers at polling locations including accessing voting materials in their own languages. This committee’s work will help us move forward in building a multi-racial democracy where every person’s voice is heard and every family has the opportunity to thrive. I look forward to working with our partners and allies on the committee, together with a revitalized Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, to ensure that Americans from all backgrounds have the ability to cast a ballot regardless of their language abilities.”

Carolina López, National Voting Rights Director, America Votes: “Ensuring adequate access to election materials and the ballot box, in the language that a voter understands, is an essential part of delivering a fair, convenient, and accessible election system. We are honored to be a part of this new Language Justice Workgroup and look forward to continuing to work with the hard-working election officials throughout the country to facilitate implementation and educate the community on language access provisions.”

Michael Jones-Correa, President’s Distinguished Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania: “There is no more important issue in any democracy than guaranteeing every citizen access to the ballot.  In our richly diverse and pluralistic country, guaranteeing access means, among other things, paying attention to language access for all potential voters, and to seeing that every jurisdiction complies with language access provisions already in the law.”