English-only Ruling For Votes Draws Fire In Iowa

This story was written by Shawn Gude, The Daily Iowan
Rep. Steve King, a Republican who represents western Iowa, has long been a controversial figure in political circles. While earning the praise of some for his lack of so-called "political correctness," others have chastised his actions, labeling them as nativistic and xenophobic.

Last week's ruling on a 2006 lawsuit brought by King continued that swirling controversy, when 5th District Judge Douglas Staskal decided printing Iowa voting forms in languages other than English violated a 2002 state law.

"There's a lot of room for debate," University of Iowa Law Professor Todd Pettys said about the ruling. "It's not clearly right, it's not clearly wrong ... It's hard to predict how the Supreme Court would resolve it."

The Supreme Court has set a precedent that "all citizens have a fundamental right to vote, and states cannot interfere with that right unless they have a compelling reason," he noted.

Whether that right was infringed upon was up for debate.

"The goal of my office was to make the voting process as uncomplicated as possible for all Iowans, regardless of their first language," Iowa Secretary of State Michael Mauro said in a statement.

Reactions on the decision were varied, with King and anti-illegal immigration activists lauding the decision and pro-immigrant groups criticizing it.

"This Iowa court ruling upholds our official English law," King said in a statement. "No one is above Iowa law, not even the Iowa state government."

Craig Halverson, director of the anti-illegal immigration Iowa Minutemen Defense Corps, said much of the same, hailing the ruling.

"I think that it will stop a lot of illegal aliens from voting," he said. "Those who come in legally, there will be no problem."

But others, including Latino Law Students Association President Irma Aboytes, see it differently. Aboytes said Latino immigrants are many times forced to work two jobs to provide for the families, leaving little time for to learn English -- even if they want to.

"I think that it's again another blow to the [Latino] community," said Aboytes, a second-year law student at the UI. "Once again, you have someone in power saying that we're not going to be welcoming and making life more difficult. I see the other side of it, but from my experiences, that's how I perceive it."

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller hasn't determined whether to challenge the ruling, a spokesman said Wednesday.
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