L.A. Councilmen Seek to Add Armenian Language to Ballot

Armenian activists rally outside the Turkish Consulate General on the 94th anniversary commemoration of the Armenian Genocide on April 24, 2009 in Los Angeles| Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Two L.A. City Councilmen want to add the Armenian language to the city's election materials and ballots, which are already provided in six languages besides English. With the Los Angeles area being home to the most Armenians in the U.S. (thousands took to the streets of Hollywood on Tuesday to observe the beginning of Armenian genocide 97 years ago), they believe there is good reason for this.

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"The Armenian population in Los Angeles is significant and continues to grow; at
last count, there were over 28,000 registered voters of Armenian descent in the City," reads a motion submitted by Council President Herb Wesson and Council Member Paul Krekorian, the first Armenian-American member of the city council. "As such, the City should consider adding Armenian as a language available on election ballot materials to ensure that the City's Armenian community is given the same consideration that other communities in the City are given."

Language options currently on L.A.'s election materials and ballots -- that would be Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese -- are required by the federal Voting Rights Act. Based on census data, single language groups must be given assistance when the population is more than 10,000 or is more than five percent of all voting age citizens or the illiteracy rate of the group is higher than the national illiteracy rate. (The most recent census data indicated that Hindi and Thai will be added to the next L.A. ballot. Countywide, those languages and Khmer, the official language of Cambodia, will also be added to the June 5 primary ballot.)

So if there are close to 30,000 Armenians living in Los Angeles, shouldn't they be also included? Well, there is a catch.

The federal law only applies to "American Indians, Asian Americans, Alaskan Natives, and Spanish-heritage citizens" because Congress determined the groups "to have faced barriers in the political process." Armenians do not fit into those categories, hence the city motion, which seeks to first study the feasibility of adding the service starting with the 2013 or 2015 elections and will be considered in a future city council committee meeting.

Neighboring city of Glendale, where around a quarter of its population is Armenian, already includes the language on its election materials and ballots.

About the Author

Zach Behrens is KCET's Director of News, Region and State, working on digital and on-air news products that relate to Southern California and beyond.
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