City Councilwoman Van Tran is circulating a petition to include the Vietnamese and Spanish languages on City of Morrow ballots. Morrow has one of the nation’s largest Vietnamese communities outside of California.

A sign in Spanish with QR codes for a petition to require the City of Morrow to add Spanish and Vietnamese ballots and election materials for its municipal elections. The other side of the sign is in Vietnamese. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

At the July 12 regular meeting, Councilwoman Dorothy Dean stepped down from the dais to comment “as a citizen,” saying she was proud to be an American citizen, then telling the council:

YouTube video

“I would like to make a comment on a motion that an elected official, Councilwoman Tran, made a few weeks ago. And that motion was to get—to try and get—a change on the voting ballot, which was to include the Vietnamese language. And with an afterthought, she included Spanish in that motion. That motion failed. On July 2, and the International Night Market event that the city held, Councilwoman Tran, along with several others, were at that event, displaying a flyer. That flyer was in only one language. And that was Vietnamese. The only individuals that could read that flyer were Vietnamese. So, they continued to engage and solicit signatures for that petition of getting the vote on the ballot to include Vietnamese. This, Councilwoman Tran, was disturbing to me. Because you, as an immigrant American, you took an oath of citizenship that was read and given to you in English. That language you swore an allegiance to to become an American citizen. You also took an oath to be an elected official, right here in this chamber. You swore and took an oath of allegiance to America. In English. As a citizen, as an elected official, you should be encouraging citizens to learn to speak, read, and write the language in which they are citizens of this country. But instead, you wanted to get a petition signed to include another country’s language on the American voting ballot. I’d like to let you know that that offended me highly. As a woman of color who’s lived in this country for 72 years, who has had to march, stand in lines in protest to get the right to vote, and I do it in honor of people who did not have the opportunity or the right to vote. And I’d like you to know that I feel, as a citizen of this city and as a fellow councilmember, that you do not deserve to sit on that dais as an elected official. You have failed in your oath of office. You have failed as a citizen of this country. You disregarded and dishonored those oaths that you took as an American citizen. I would like to say that that is un-American, and inexcusable. Shame on you, Van Tran.”

When Tran asked Mayor John Lampl for an opportunity to respond, Lampl denied her request, then began talking at length about how successful recent city events had been. Several minutes later, Lampl said, “I’m going to end this council meeting, because there’s very little reason for us to continue having this debate. Meeting adjourned.”

Tran said, “Ms. Dorothy Dean, I will respond to your comments via e-mail,” and that she wanted an explanation of why Dean had said what she did. “Section 203, Voting Right[s] Act,” Tran added.

L-R: Morrow City Counilmembers Van T. Tran, Renee S. Knight, Mayor John Lampl, Khoa Vuong, and Dorothy Dean after Dean accused Tran of being “un-American” for circulating a petition for the city to provide ballots and voting materials in Vietnamese and Spanish.

Lampl and Tran regularly butt heads, with Tran trying to amend previous meeting agendas to include more detailed comments or asking for detailed financial records and Lampl either throwing shade at or insulting her during council meetings.

The Clayton Crescent was unable to reach either Tran or Dean for comment by press time Monday. Tran told the AJC’s Greg Bluestein, “There is nothing more patriotic and American than helping American citizens fulfill their duty to vote. I am providing access to voting for all American citizens. It is offensive to call the many languages spoken by American citizens as foreign.”

Fellow Vietnamese councilmember Khoa Vuong posted a message in Vietnamese to Facebook denouncing Dean’s comments (as translated by Facebook): “At the city meeting, the congresswoman Dorothy Dean used heavily insult to the Vietnamese congresswoman Ms. Van Tran. Because Ms. Van Tran volunteer to add Vietnamese and Spanish to the city ballot. Think we should not keep quiet watching our communities being abused. Although we come from different backgrounds in the world, now as AMERICANS, we need to be treated equally as all Americans. We need to be treated equally! Please let’s share together to end discrimination in our communities.”

Clayton County Registrar Manager Scott Brown told The Clayton Crescent that he wasn’t sure whether Morrow would be required to provide ballots in multiple languages, and that he would need to speak with Elections and Registration Director Shauna Dozier and county attorneys to clarify the matter. The county is handling Morrow’s next municipal election.

However, if Morrow is required to provide ballots in Vietnamese and Spanish, Brown said he would be required to send out three separate ballots—one in English, one in Spanish, and one in Vietnamese—to each Morrow voter, rather than one longer ballot with all three languages on it.

A sign in Vietnamese with QR codes for a petition to require the City of Morrow to add Spanish and Vietnamese ballots and election materials for its municipal elections. The other side of the sign is in Spanish. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

The latest federal determinations as to locations that have to provide multilingual ballot access show only one location in Georgia: Gwinnett County, which must provide ballots in Spanish as well as English.

But a Morrow has eligible voting populations by race that are well in excess of the 5% federal threshold.

Fact Check: Language Rights

Nowhere in the Oath of Allegiance is there any requirement that naturalized citizens speak, read, or write English.

Naturalized citizens of the United States do not swear an oath to the English language, as Dean incorrectly stated. They swear an oath of allegiance to the United States of America—and while the oath is read in English, non-English speakers may bring an interpreter to the ceremony:

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services lists several exceptions to the requirement that new citizens learn to speak English. These include:

  • Age 50 or older at the time of filing for naturalization and have lived as a permanent resident (Green Card holder) in the United States for 20 years (commonly referred to as the “50/20” exception).
  • Age 55 or older at the time of filing for naturalization and have lived as a permanent resident in the United States for 15 years (commonly referred to as the “55/15” exception)
  • inability to learn English or take the civics test in any language due to a physical or developmental disability or a mental impairment

The right to speak one’s own language and to have legal and judicial proceedings interpreted are widely recognized in international human rights law.

The rights of non-English-speaking voters

Any Georgia voter who does not speak English is allowed to bring an interpreter to the polls with them. The interpreter cannot influence the voter nor tell them who or what to vote for.

The Federal Voting Rights Act contains provisions under which a jurisdiction’s ballots must provide translations for voters who speak languages other than English “where the number of United States citizens of voting age is a single language group within the jurisdiction:

  • Is more than 10,000, or
  • Is more than five percent of all voting age citizens, or
  • On an Indian reservation, exceeds five percent of all reservation residents; and
  • The illiteracy rate of the group is higher than the national illiteracy rate.”

In 1975, Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act secured non-English-speaking voters’ rights:

“Whenever any State or political subdivision [covered by the section] provides registration or voting notices, forms, instructions, assistance, or other materials or information relating to the electoral process, including ballots, it shall provide them in the language of the applicable minority group as well as in the English language.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, “All information that is provided in English also must be provided in the minority language as well. This covers not only the ballot, but all election information—voter registration, candidate qualifying, polling place notices, sample ballots, instructional forms, voter information pamphlets, and absentee and regular ballots—from details about voter registration through the actual casting of the ballot, and the questions that regularly come up in the polling place. Written materials must be translated accurately, of course. Assistance also must be provided orally. Most Native American languages historically are unwritten, so that all information must be transmitted orally. Oral communications are especially important in any situation where literacy is depressed. Bilingual poll workers will be essential in at least some precincts on election day, and there should be trained personnel in the courthouse or city hall who can answer questions in the minority language, just as they do for English-speaking voters.”

Language minorities in the United States include “persons who are American Indian, Asian American, Alaskan Natives, or of Spanish heritage.” That information is based on the latest U.S. Census data.

By the numbers

For Morrow, the most current (2021) data shows 30.5% of the population is Vietnamese, 2.4% are Chinese, for a total of 32.9% Asian. 22.2% of Morrow residents are are Hispanic or Latino of any race, with 13.1% of those being Mexican and 8.9% “other Hispanic or Latino.” The city’s total voting-age population is 3,800 of the city’s 6,572 residents.

Overall, as of the 2021 Census update, 834 Asians of voting age (21.9% of Morrow’s total voting-age population) and 441 Hispanic or Latinos of voting age (11.6% of Morrow’ss total voting-age population) live in Morrow. Those figures are well above the 5% threshold specified by the Federal Voting Rights Act.

Morrow has 620 naturalized Asian citizens and 127 native-born Asian citizens of voting age. That’s 747 people. 87 Morrow residents in the Asian community were born abroad and are not U.S. citizens. Another 707 native-born Asians in Morrow are eligible to vote if they were to register. If those 87 people were to become U.S. citizens, they would have the right to vote.

Morrow also is home to 83 naturalized Hispanic or Latino citizens of voting age and 198 native-born Hispanic or Latino citizens of voting age. That’s 281 people. Another 284 native-born Hispanic or Latino residents are eligible to vote if they register, and another 118 foreign-born Hispanic or Latino people in Morrow could get the right to vote if they were to become U.S. citizens.

The city is home to 768 Black or African-American residents, 745 of whom are native-born U.S. citizens and 23 of whom are not U.S. citizens. Those 23 people would have to become U.S. citizens in order to be eligible to vote.

No figures for 2021 were available for white (non-Hispanic or Latino) Morrow residents. The last figures were from 2015, which showed 647 native-born white residents and 28 white non-U.S. citizens who would have been ineligible to vote.

The Census also breaks down various mixed-race categories and additional races like Native American (none in Morrow).

Learn more about how the U.S. Department of Justice enforces the Voting Rights Act.

Read frequently asked questions about Section 203’s language determinations.

To report a possible civil rights violation, visit .

Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....

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