New Bilingual Ballot Plan Could Save City $300,000

Efficiencies in choosing which precincts would get Chinese and Vietnamese ballots, plus shifting costs to the state for state ballots, would create the city's savings.


A new plan to more efficiently choose which Boston precincts get Chinese and Vietnamese ballots — and shift costs of some ballots to the Commonwealth — could save Boston $300,000 a year.

City Council on Wednesday passed a resolution on the matter, after study by the Committee on Government Operations, chaired by District 6 City Councilor Matt O'Malley.

A 2010 state law requires that Chinese or Vietnamese ballots be used in certain precincts. City councilors are seeking to amend that law to make the state shoulder the financial burden of creating bilingual ballots for state elections.

"This bill will allow the city to save hundreds of thousands of dollars while providing more bilingual Chinese and Vietnamese ballots to people who need them," O'Malley said at Wednesday's council meeting.

The cost of Chinese and Vietnamese ballots for last week's presidential primary was $75,000, O'Malley said.

Other councilors also supported the measure.

"There are lots of states that are, I believe, passing measures that intentionally restrict voter participation," said At-Large Councilor Felix Arroyo, "and this is the exact opposite of that."

The bill would target precincts where more than 5 percent of voting-age citizens speak either Chinese or Vietnamese and have limited proficiency in English. The current law results in ballots being printed for precincts where they aren't needed, according to testimony at a Feb. 21 committee meeting. The minutes of that meeting are attached to this story.

"It’s not often we have something in front of us that increases inclusion and saves money," said Councilor Tito Jackson of District 7.

The "Home Rule Petition" passed by City Council must now pass in the state legislature — where they may not be so eager to change the following language in the existing law:

Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, any costs resulting from implementation of this act shall be borne by the city of Boston.

In other items from the Wednesday meeting of the City Council:

  • Council President Stephen Murphy called for a hearing about a section of South Boston waterfront where there is "effectively no policing going on." He said MassPort properties, which represent a third of the real estate in the area, are under the jurisdiction of the State Police. "[Boston Police are] not the primary responders and State Police aren’t following up the way the Boston Police would," Murphy said. MassPort has its own police units, but they lack the authority to enforce rules against overcrowding or oversee alcohol licenses.
  • Councilors took no action on redrawing City Council electoral districts.
  • Councilors made changes to the structure and names of their committees.


[Editor's note — This item is posted on the following Boston Patch sites: West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain and Back Bay.]


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