Oh Say Can Yu Vote?

As Michelle and Michael have written, sometimes Americans wonder whether or not to vote. But for some Americans, the issue is being able to vote in the first place.

In a video of an April 7 state legislative hearing, Texas lawmaker Betty Brown and Organization of Chinese Americans representative Ramey Ko discuss proposed voter identification requirements in Texas. Ko notes that some people of Asian descent have had trouble voting in a number of states because some of their identification papers use legal names transliterated from Asian languages while others include nicknames adopted for everyday use. Others have had problems because of variations in how their names are spelled on documents. Both Brown and Ko agree voters should present proof of identity to participate in elections.

A voter hands over his identification as he registers to vote.During the discussion, Brown asks Ko if “it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here.” She immediately adds that she is “not talking about changing your name,” but then later asks “if there were some means by which you could adopt a name just for identification purposes that was easier for Americans to deal with?”

Brown’s comments have generated a lot of attention in the Asian-American community, including the blog Asian-Nation, the Asian American Action Fund, the Asian American Journalists Association and the Organization of Chinese Americans. I personally find Brown’s comments troubling. The United States is a land of immigrants, and the diversity of our names is a part of our cultural heritage. People of any background – Asian, Middle Eastern, African, Latin American or European – should not be asked to adopt different names for identification purposes because others find their true names hard to spell or pronounce.

At the same time, we must acknowledge that many immigrants and naturalized citizens do adopt nicknames for daily use that often are included on common forms of identification such as student IDs, work IDs and driver’s licenses. Should people be allowed to use these documents to register to vote and, when necessary, prove their identity at the polls? Or should they be required to show additional documents that list their legal names, such as naturalization certificates or passports? When there are variations in spelling, how much discretion should voter registration and poll workers have in verifying identification? How can these workers certify people as eligible to vote without unduly burdening anyone?

This entry was posted in By the People and tagged , , , , by Peggy B. Hu. Bookmark the permalink.

About Peggy B. Hu

Peggy B. Hu defied Asian-American stereotypes in college by studying comparative literature and international relations rather than math and science.|| She works for America.gov as a copy editor, occasional writer and unofficial interpreter between information technology staff and other people. She is also the volunteer webmaster for the Washington chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association, a piano player and the mother of a primary school student who thinks he should have an equal say in family decisions.

3 thoughts on “Oh Say Can Yu Vote?

  1. Dear
    i hope you will give me some chance of expresion.we belong to rural area of pakistan our women deprivated frome difernt facilties of life due to regedness of people .we are young educated work for humanity at village level.theirfore we financial Aid from canadian Govt or civil society.ok thanks

  2. My wife and I have run into similar problems outside the voting booth so this is an interesting subject to us.
    My wife is Korean and her name translates several different ways when Romanized. Jeon or Chon for her family name and Hwa or Wha for part of her given name.
    When we purchased a home we had to get documents in her name but which name should we use? Our marriage license lists her as Chon but most other documents are listed as Jeon as is her passport.
    Based on personal experience, we must take the side of permitting some leeway in translating the name but even then, having a voter registration ID would permit these issues to be resolved prior to election day.

  3. Chon Jeon,

    Thank you very much for sharing your experience and that of your wife. May I ask in which state you were trying to vote?

    You make a good point that identification documents are also used for other activities such as buying houses.