HAMTRAMCK — The city of Hamtramck is on track to provide its residents election ballots and materials in Arabic for the August primary.
City officials confirmed the progress of the ballots with The Arab American News this week.
Hamtramck passed a language access resolution to provide federal voting rights act language accommodation to its Arab speaking population, shortly after the Dearborn City Council passed its own very similar resolution.
Originally, the Dearborn City Council’s resolution did not contain the word Arabic, making it more open ended to accommodate whichever population fit the federal population criteria. That resolution was later amended to specify Arabic would be the language used, after a request from the Wayne County clerk.
Hamtramck’s resolution specified the language as well. At the City Council meeting where the resolution was introduced and then unanimously passed, outgoing City Manager Kathy Angerer had said translations are tricky and delicate procedures and she could not guarantee whether they would be ready for the primary, or the November general election this year.
Fortunately for Hamtramck voters, the City Clerk’s Office utilized its experience from the other translation it already performs (in Bengali), and as well as regular check ins with the county and even Dearborn election officials, to roll the translations out in time for the primary.
It is believed that with this election, Hamtramck will become the only city in the state to provide election materials in three languages (English, Bengali and Arabic). Hamtramck and Dearborn should also become the first in the country to provide the Arabic language on election ballots. Dearborn has offered only sample ballots in Arabic for the past two years.
Three other municipalities, Clyde Township, Covert Township and the city of Fennville, offer Spanish translations.
Census data shows more than 70 percent of the population in Hamtramck speaks a language other than English at home. Some 40 percent of the population is foreign born.
Although Hamtramck has provided Bengali election material for more than a decade, thanks to a federal mandate after the 2010 Census, the city’s Arab American population has not been afforded such a service from the federal government.
This is because Arab Americans are counted as “White” in federal population data and are not covered under certain minority protections.
The Michigan Secretary of State has said municipalities can instruct their clerks to provide language accommodations for populations that meet federal guidelines (5 percent or more of the population or 10,000 or more people).
We were on top of the process because of the experience we’ve had in the past with the (Bengali translations). — Hamtramck City Clerk Rana Faraj
City Clerk Rana Farah told The Arab American News the Arabic translation effort came out of a culmination of regular meetings with county election officials, the Dearborn City clerk and the voting machine vendor Dominion.
“We touch base on how far along we are and we’re pretty much dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s right now,” Faraj said.
Hamtramck used an individual translator and the translations were then looked over for accuracy by the city’s first Arab American mayor, Amer Ghalib.
Faraj said she was proud of the team effort in seeing the translations through to the finish line.
“We were on top of the process because of the experience we’ve had in the past with the (Bengali translations),” Faraj was happy to report.
As with Dearborn, the ballots will use standard Arabic. Hamtramck will provide separate ballots and other materials for each language.
As with Dearborn, the state requires the names of candidates on the ballots be in English, though Hamtramck will provide phonetic translations of the names available at the voting booth to give voters that extra aid.