DEARBORN — After some debate, the Dearborn City Council unanimously passed a resolution on Tuesday that sought to ensure that ballots and other election materials would be translated into multiple languages, thereby bringing much needed basic U.S. Voting Rights Act (VRA) provisions around language to Dearborn voters.
The VRA dictates that translated materials be provided to any group that is 5 percent or more of the population or 10,000 or more people.
Two provisions in the VRA require local governments to provide translated election materials.
“A jurisdiction covered by either provision must provide all materials related to an election — such as voter registration materials, ballots, notices and instructions — in the language of any applicable language minority group residing in the jurisdiction,” said the resolution, brought forth by City Councilman Mustapha Hammoud.
The resolution was supported by the Michigan Secretary of State and the city’s new administration.
Census data shows that 46 percent of the city’s residents ages 5 and over speak Arabic at home and that out of the 40,594 Arabic speakers age 5 and above in Dearborn, about 24,000 speak English very well and about 16,600 did not speak English very well.
While this makes Arabic the only language that currently qualifies for translation, Hammoud pointed out during Tuesday’s meeting the requirement would stipulate translation for any population meeting the limit, not just Arabs.
“It’s a victory for voter access,” Hammoud said at the meeting after the resolution’s passage. “Voting is one of the most important rights we have as American citizens.”
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson was at the meeting to show support for the resolution.
At that meeting, Councilman Robert Abraham suggested delaying the measure until 2023, while Councilwoman Leslie Herrick said the resolution was rushed, though she was informed of it over the weekend.
But after a vote to delay the implementation of the resolution failed, the resolution passed, with the requirement that the translations be implemented by the important upcoming August primary election.
In that election, several Arab American candidates are vying for state legislature seats.
Clerk’s wife draws condemnation over offensive social media comment
Shortly after, social media remarks by Dearborn City Clerk George Darany’s wife regarding Hammoud’s successful effort to bring language access to the ballot box sparked outrage in the community.
The remarks were made as a comment on social media by Maria Marzolo Darany, which included, “We do speak American in this country as most immigrants learn.”
In her comment, Darany said that resolution was unnecessary as the city had “always” sent out translated sample ballots in previous elections. But that sample translation only first occurred in the 2020 election, as a pilot program in multiple municipalities implemented by Secretary of State Benson, through a Language Access Task Force Chaired by now state representative candidate Bilal Hammoud.
Clerk Darany also raised concerns about the cost associated with the translation project.
Dearborn’s newly-elected Mayor Abdullah Hammoud said at the meeting that the funds for the translation, an estimated $20,000, would be made available through the city’s budget for the necessary task.
He also said that nonprofits could help translate at a discounted rate.
In the 2021 election cycle, sample ballots were translated after public pressure to repeat the process locally. That year, The Arab American News had worked to translate sample ballots, for a fee, at the request of the Dearborn City Clerk.
As for the backlash over the city clerk’s wife’s xenophobic remarks on social media, Darany told WXYZ that the remarks were her own, even though he found them to be “true.”
“Think she said we do speak American in this country, which obviously is true,” Darany said. “We also speak a lot of other different languages. She printed that. Those are her words, not mine.”
He told WXYZ that his department would work hard to implement the language requirements by August primary.