Enthusiasm lacking despite Tagalog ballots

May Manahan of the Clark County Department of Elections holds a sign in Tagalog urging voters to register and vote.

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – For the first time ever in a general election in Nevada, ballots and other election materials are available in Tagalog, the dialect most Filipino-Americans speak.

Unfortunately, not very many are too excited about it, judging from the number of requests for such materials.

As of Thursday, Aug. 23, only a handful have requested the materials, according to May Manahan of the Clark County Department of Elections.

“We have received only 180 requests,” said Manahan, a Filipino-American who had helped translate the materials. “It’s a tiny percentage of the 60,000 or so Filipino residents of Clark County.”

Las Vegas, the largest city in Clark County, is home to about 30,000 Filipinos and Filipino-Americans, who work mostly as casino workers or healthcare professionals.

“They are not just into politics,” Manahan said about the apparent lack of interest of her countrymen. “They say voting does not make much of a difference in their lives.”

Filipino, or Tagalog as it is more popularly called even though there are hundreds of other dialects in the Philippines, is the third language used in the ballots in Nevada. The other languages are English and Spanish.

All election-related materials, such sample ballots, brochures and voting instructions, pamphlets, voting machines, notices, and polling booths signs must be in those languages.

It is mandated by Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires that if a minority group reaches 10,000 citizens who are not proficient in English – or those limited-English speakers become five percent of the citizen voting-age population.

The determinations are made every ten years following the census. Data released last October revealed that Filipinos in the U.S. reached that threshold in four new jurisdictions, including Clark County.

According to the 2010 Census, there are 98,351 Filipinos in Nevada, the largest Asian population. Asian and Pacific Islanders total 195,436 or 7.2 percent of the state’s 2.7 million population.

Filipino-American community leaders were hoping the Tagalog ballots would result in a surge of new voters, but they say the discouraging numbers mean more education is needed.

“We have to get our people more engaged in the political process,” said Rozita Lee, a member of the White House Commission on Asians and Pacific islanders.

There are other reasons for the lukewarm response to the Tagalog translations, Lee said.

“Most Filipino-Americans are proficient in English because of our American educational system,” she said. “Maybe they feel they don’t need the translation anymore.”

English is the medium of instruction in Philippine schools, in which the educational system was installed by the Americans when the then Philippine Islands became a colony in 1898.

But the older generation of Filipino-Americans maybe more comfortable with the Tagalog translations,  Lee said, so in the end, it could be “helpful and beneficial.”

The Tagalog translations were used in the June primary, said Manahan, the voter registration official.

Follow Bert Eljera on Twitter @vegaspinoy60, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/bert.eljera1 and on http://www.examiner.com/asianamerican-politics-in-las-vegas/bert-eljera.

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