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City's Sample Ballots Take On United Nations Flavor : Election: Voters can request copies in five Asian languages, in addition to English and Spanish. Diversity conforms to changes in federal Voting Rights Act.

March 30, 1993|K. CONNIE KANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles voters this year for the first time can get sample ballots in five Asian languages, officials said Monday. They are Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog and Vietnamese.

On Monday, the city began mailing 265,000 postcards offering the service to registered voters in 673 targeted precincts, officials in the city clerk's office said.

The addition of materials in the Asian languages as well as Spanish is the result of 1992 amendments to the federal Voting Rights Act, which requires counties to supply voting materials for Latino, Asian-American, American Indian and Alaskan minority groups that number 10,000 or more, speak little or no English and have a literacy rate below the national average.

For Los Angeles that meant Chinese, Japanese, Tagalog and Vietnamese in addition to English and Spanish.

Koreans, who number more than 10,000 in Los Angeles, were not covered by the law because their literacy rate is higher than the national average. The city added them as a "matter of sound public policy," said Kristin F. Heffron, chief of elections in the city clerk's office.

Los Angeles city and county print election materials in seven languages, the most in the United States. Orange County has to provide voter information in three languages: Spanish, Vietnamese and English. So does San Francisco, which prints election materials in Chinese, English and Spanish. The cost of the Los Angeles city multilingual project is $900,000 so far, Heffron said.

In order to comply with federal law, city officials had to ignore a little-known 1946 provision of the City Charter that says English must be used exclusively in voting materials, City Atty. James Hahn said.

The city clerk's office has a toll free number, (800) 994-8683, to answer questions. Registered voters receiving the mailers must return them to the city clerk's office by April 13 to get the sample ballots. The election is April 20.

"I'm especially pleased for the Asian-American language community," said Esteban Lizardo, a staff attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who worked with city officials on the project. "This is another step in opening up the process that denied the vote to minority language voters."

Kathryn Imahara, a staff attorney with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California, said the project is especially meaningful because most Asian-Americans could not vote until the 1950s.

Election officials plan to staff 432 polling places with 626 bilingual poll workers on Election Day, Heffron said.

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