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Our plan to get bilingual ballots in Haitian Creole

On the November 2022 ballot, I was thrilled to see our state election ballots printed in Vietnamese as well as the usual English. But I wondered, "Randolph has more Haitian Creole speakers than Vietnamese speakers, so why did the ballots get printed only in Vietnamese?" So we made a plan to fix that! Here's how....

We called the Secretary of State's office (and then several more government agencies!) to figure out the rules. There's a federal law that requires printing the ballot in foreign languages if more than 5% of your city's population speaks one foreign language at home. That 5% is determined by the 2020 census, and took effect across Massachusetts and nationwide in 2022. But the only languages that qualify are Spanish, Asian languages (except Arabic), and Native American languages. That means "yes for Vietnamese but no for Haitian Creole."

Could that list of languages be changed? Only by federal legislation ("an Act of Congress"). But we CAN change it at the state/municipal level instead of federally. That's called a "Home Rule Petition," which means an exception to state law for one municipality. That whole process is described here, and the final version of our "Home Rule Petition" appears below -- we'll need YOUR help to make this happen! Some details:

Randolph is the only city in Massachusetts that qualified for Vietnamese-language ballots. I asked the Secretary of State's office about neighboring Braintree, which has a Vietnamese Buddhist Temple, but they were under the 5% cutoff. Other municipalities do qualify for Spanish and Chinese and other languages, but only Randolph qualified for Vietnamese-language ballots. Randolph can be proud of serving our Vietnamese-speaking neighbors' election needs well, and now we should work towards serving our Haitian Creole-speaking neighbors too!

The federal legislation that specifies that list of languages is Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, which targets "language minorities [who] have been effectively excluded from participation in the electoral process." Haitian Creole-speakers have not been "effectively excluded," according to our federal government, so there's no requirement to print Haitian Creole ballots even though Randolph has well over 5% of Haitian Creole speakers.

Because printing Randolph's ballots in Vietnamese is a federal requirement, the Secretary of State's office pays for translating and printing our ballots. They'll do the same for Haitian Creole, for state and federal elections, but not for municipal elections. That means printing the November 2025 municipal ballots are up to the Town of Randolph to fund, but all the other ballots in 2024 through 2025 are paid for by state funds.

The Town of Randolph also has to pay an election worker at each polling place who can assist with the Haitian Creole ballots (i.e. a translator). That same rule applies to our Vietnamese ballots, and Randolph hired Vietnamese-speaking election workers in four polling places in November 2022. Because Randolph has more Haitian Creole speakers than Vietnamese speakers, it will likely be easier to find election workers in that language.

Randolph is one of 5 municipalities in Massachusetts with a significant Haitian Creole community. The other 4 are Medford, Somerville, Brockton, and Boston. So we contacted all 4 of those City Councils, to see if they would pass a similar Home Rule Petition. Getting several municipalities to ask for the same Home Rule Petition makes the state legislature much more likely to pass the legislation quickly. If you have friends or family in those other 4 cities, ask them to bring this issue to their City Council!

Once the Home Rule petitions get to the legislature, we rely on our State Reps and State Senators to bring the bill to a vote, and to get their colleagues to vote Yes. Contacting your state legislator helps a lot -- just to let them know that you'd like them to pass this legislation it's called "Bill HD.4474". Their contact info is on the legislation.

Town Councilors Jesse Gordon and Katrina Huff-Larmond introduced this Home Rule Petition to the Randolph Town Council, and are committed to seeing it through to implementation.


Jesse Gordon, (617) 320-6989, jgordon@randolph-ma.gov

Former State Senate candidate Kathleen Crogan-Camara will lead the effort to contact our state legislators. Their contact is below -- call them to say you support HD.4474! Kathleen will report monthly at Randolph Democratic Town Committee meetings.

Contacts in State House: (ask them to vote for our Home Rule Petition!)

  • State Rep. Bill Driscoll (617) 722-2020 William.Driscoll@MAHouse.gov
  • State Rep. Bruce Ayers (617) 722-2220 Bruce.Ayers@MAHouse.gov
  • State Senator Walter Timilty (617) 722-1643 Walter.Timilty@MASenate.gov
  • State Senator Michael Brady (617) 722-1200 Michael.Brady@MASenate.gov

Other 4 cities with large Haitian-Creole population: (ask them to join us like petition above!)

  • Somerville City Council (617) 666-3311 citycouncil@somervillema.gov
  • Brockton City Council (508) 897-1314 snicastro@cobma.us
  • Boston City Council (617) 635-3040 https://www.boston.gov/departments/city-council
  • Medford City Council (781) 393-2425 ccmembers@medford-ma.gov

Sign up to testify on Dec. 5!
(Closed December 4; see further actions below)

The State Legislature will hold a hearing on our bill on December 5 from 1 PM to 5 PM. YOU can "testify", which means tell the legislators your opinion of the bill, for up to 3 minutes. You can go in-person to the State House, or you can testify virtually by signing up here:


You can also email your testimony -- that's due on Friday Dec. 8. I plan to do both -- testify virtually on Tuesday, then say the same thing by email before Friday (send to colleen.bellotti@mahouse.gov and emerson.gagnon@masenate.gov). "Testifying" just means "tell your story on the record" -- here's the story I'll tell:

On November 7th, 2023, the Randolph Town Council ballot had sections translated into Vietnamese, but not translated into Haitian Creole. I very much appreciate that Randolph is the only municipality in the Commonwealth which prints ballots in Vietnamese -- but everyone in town knows that our Haitian population is larger than our Vietnamese population. We'd like to encourage Haitian Creole speakers to vote as much as we encourage Vietnamese speakers to vote.

On December 1st, 2023, Randolph held a recount for the Town Council At-Large race, and I saw first-hand how Haitian Creole translation might have changed the outcome of that recount. The At-Large race had a note on top "Vote for not more than FIVE", which was duly translated into Vietnamese. My name appeared in the 6th position on that ballot, so exactly how voters understood "not more than FIVE" mattered a lot to me! Perhaps some English-language learners might misinterpret the expression "Vote for not more than FIVE" -- it's certainly a confusing phrase.

I saw the results of that confusing phrase during the recount. We observed several "over-votes" -- where voters filled in 6 circles instead of the maximum 5 allowed for our 5 At-Large Town Council seats. In a recount, an "over-vote" invalidates the entire ballot -- none of the 6 votes counts, since it's impossible to determine which 5 candidates the voter intended. It's a bad moment to see that a voter intended to vote for me -- with the circle next to my name filled in -- but the ballot is disqualified because of a misunderstanding and a resulting "over-vote."

I believe that some of the disqualified "over-votes" were misunderstandings of the English instruction "Vote for not more than FIVE," and I believe that some of those misunderstandings were from Haitian Creole speakers who speak English as a second language. In other words, if we print our ballots in Haitian Creole, there will be fewer misunderstandings and more valid votes.

Isn't that the purpose of translating the ballots into other foreign languages? Let's do so for Haitian Creole, the most important foreign language in Randolph. We look forward to the State Legislature's support in increasing voter participation in Randolph.

Actions you can take, on Dec. 5 thru Dec. 8....

  1. People who were unable to sign-up to testify before Monday's deadline can sign up to testify IN PERSON on the day of the hearing. Megan Bragg in Chair Ryan's Office will be set-up outside the hearing room with a table, they will have to sign-up with her before testifying (starting at 1 PM on 12/5/23) so there's a record of everyone who speaks. The hearing is in room A1 on the first floor of the State House, easily accessed via the Ashburton Entrance off Bowdoin Street.

  2. Submit written testimony by email to the two staffers for the legislative committee -- Emerson Gagnon (emerson.gagnon@masenate.gov) and Colleen Bellotti (colleen.bellotti@mahouse.gov) until the deadline on Friday, December 8th, 2023 (which includes the weekend).

  3. Members of the public who wish to watch the hearing remotely can do so on the hearing page on the legislature's website: https://malegislature.gov/Events/Hearings/Detail/4802. The livestream will be accessible on Dec. 5.

  4. Contact the two Randolph legislators who are co-sponsoring the bill -- Rep. Bill Driscoll at (617) 722-2020 William.Driscoll@MAHouse.gov and Senator Walter Timilty at (617) 722-1643 Walter.Timilty@MASenate.gov -- to thank them and let them know what you think, as a constituent or a Massachusetts resident -- so they might say something about your constituent comment at the hearing.

  5. You can also contact the two Randolph legislators who are NOT YET co-sponsoring the bill -- Rep. Bruce Ayers at (617) 722-2220 Bruce.Ayers@MAHouse.gov and Senator Michael Brady at (617) 722-1200 Michael.Brady@MASenate.gov -- to ask them to co-sponsor the bill and/or watch the hearing.

Joint Committee on Election Laws Hearing 12/5/23 1pm-5pm

Individuals who wish to testify virtually at the Joint Committee on Election Laws upcoming hearing must register by completing this form before 10:00 p.m. on Monday, December 4th, 2023.

Those wishing to testify in person may register in person at the time of the hearing but are encouraged to register ahead of time using this form.

Those who sign up to testify virtually will receive further instruction on how to participate in the hearing by email from Legislative Information Services (LIS) after the registration deadline expires and the form closes at 10:00am on December 4th, 2023.

Please note that the Chair will limit testimony to three minutes per individual and reserves the right to call public officials out of turn.

Written testimony may be submitted to the Committee at 24 Beacon Street, Room 445, Boston, MA 02133 or by e-mail to colleen.bellotti@mahouse.gov and emerson.gagnon@masenate.gov Written testimony must be received by Friday, December 8th, 2023.

Committee to Elect Jesse Gordon, 52 West St, Randolph MA 02368

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