Recalling Coffman's Proposal for English-Only Ballots, as the Voting Rights Act Turns 50

Over the weekend, I enjoyed reading Jim Rutenberg's piece in the New York Times magazine on how conservatives have methodically dismantled the Voting Rights Act, which turns 50 on Thursday, culminating in the U.S. Supreme Court's 2013 decision gutting major provisions of the law.

Here at home, one conservative who's been throwing his congressional spear at the Voting Rights Act, widely credited for finally giving African-Americans actual factual access to the voting booth, is Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora.

Coffman, you recall, introduced legislation in 2011 repealing the law's requirement that bilingual ballots be provided in areas with large numbers of voters don't speak English very well.

In other words, Coffman wanted to leave the decision about whether to provide bilingual ballots to local authorities, and if you take the time to read Rutenberg's article, you'll see that, as much as we'd all like to believe otherwise, local politicians are apparently still trying to keep black Americans from voting. That's why we need federal requirements for stuff like bilingual ballots--to make sure everyone can participate in democracy, such as it is.

But Coffman, who once suggested that immigrants "pull out a dictionary" if they're having trouble understanding an English ballot, doesn't see it that way. Which might explain why he's apparently not joined efforts in Congress to update the Voting Rights Act.

Coffman: "Since proficiency in English is already a requirement for U.S. citizenship, forcing cash-strapped local governments to provide ballots in a language other than English makes no sense at all," Coffman told the Denver Post in 2011.

Last year, Coffman doubled down on his support for English-only ballots, saying during a Univision debate that he still opposes the Voting Rights Act's requirements for mailing Spanish-language ballots, because it's expensive.

But Coffman said it in a more friendly way, "I would hope that every voter will be able to get the information that he needs in a language he can understand."

Again, most of us have to share Coffman's hope, but there's also reality lurking out there, embodied in politicians who care more about self-preservation than democracy. And you can read about it in the New York Times.