Sunday, November 18, 2012

American Election Postscript

Dearborn Mosque
This is by way of a postscript to the previous post (November 4) about the role of Natural or Native Translators in the American presidential election. So that post should be read first.
“Election day in Dearborn [Michigan] did bring out a large number of Arab Americans to local precincts, but along with it came several issues that many voters feel need to be addressed.
“At the Salina Elementary School precinct in the south end of the city, State Representative Rashida Tlaib, who was monitoring the precinct during the afternoon on behalf of the Democrat party, says the precinct had very few translators to assist bilingual voters and many residents were at first denied voting due to errors in the system. ‘There are a lot of Middle Eastern names that are very long and some of the clerk workers are denying them the right to vote because there might not have been a hyphen in their name. We should always have translators at these locations.’
“Salina wasn't the only precinct that experienced some setbacks. There were also issues among Arab Americans at William Ford, who needed translators to help them vote. While many translators were at the precinct, there were some complaints that it wasn’t enough.
“Cindy Galea, the Election Supervisor for Dearborn told us in a phone interview that they received several complaints on election day, but she stressed that the city clerk's office tried their hardest to make sure that multiple interpreters were available at every precinct, especially on the east side. The city clerk's office had reached out to ACCESS, who gave the city at least 30-40  people who were bilingual and also understood how to work the computer system. With 50 precincts in the city, the interpreters had to be divided accordingly.
“One minor problem that occurred at several precincts was reports of soliciting from several poll workers. According to Galea, this wasn't a major issue but there were a couple of cases of bilingual poll workers who were assisting residents regardless of whether they asked for help or not, which is against voting guidelines. Interpreters are only supposed to assist residents when they ask for help.
“One issue that emerged at the Lowery precinct on the east side of the city ended with Dearborn Police having to be called onto the scene.
“A local man tells us that when he was waiting in line, he noticed that a poll worker was not communicating clearly with bilingual residents. The local man says he offered to help the poll worker interpret for residents who were confused about straight party voting. The poll worker initially agreed that the local man could help interpret for residents and he was able to assist voters for over two hours.
“However after 8:00 p.m., the poll worker had an issue with the local man still being inside of the polling location because the polls had closed. The local man said he refused to leave because people were still inside placing their votes and needed guidance. The poll worker became irritated and called the police, claiming that the local man was a disturbance. While no arrests were made, police did make a report of the incident.
“Galea stated that for future purposes, residents should know that they are able to bring an interpreter with them to assist them with the ballots [their translator of choice – see previous post].”
From this we learn that
  • It's illegal for interpreters to intervene unless voters ask them to.
  • Though Spanish is the language for which interpreters are most required in the USA, there are large communities with other languages, in this case Arabic, who also need them.
  • A "local man" stepped in to help. It's often the desire to help a stranger who has a momentary language problem that triggers Natural Translation. The "local man" should be congratulated for standing his ground.
  • Proper names in other languages and cultures present a special problem. People think that personal names don't need translating, but they commonly undergo modification even if it's only in the pronunciation or spelling. Muhammad or Mohammad or Mohamed or Mahomet? Computers are worse than humans at coping with such changes.
Samer Hijazi. Shortage of translators, mechanical problems plague local polls. Arab American News, 9 November 2012. The full report is here.

Brian Harris. The translation of names. In J.-M. Bravo (ed.), A New Spectrum of Translation Studies, Universidad de Valladolid, Spain, 2004, pp. 73-92. Available here

 Mosque at Dearborn. Source: Shakeel Ali, Peace and Collaborative Development Network

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post. I found this story very interesting.
    On a related note, I recently came across an article by Jeremy Munday in Language and Intercultural Communication, which also looks at non-professional translation the context of US politics: "New directions in discourse analysis for translation: a study of decision-making in crowdsourced subtitles of Obama's 2012 State of the Union speech."
    In case you want to take a look at it, you can access it here: