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Californians can register to vote in 10 languages, but not the top 10 spoken in the state



Melik Ekizian says  some of his elders in California's Armenian community would welcome being able to register to vote online in the Armenian language.
Melik Ekizian says some of his elders in California's Armenian community would welcome being able to register to vote online in the Armenian language.
Sharon McNary/KPCC

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Beginning Monday, Californians may use any of 10 languages to register online to vote, but the languages Secretary of State Debra Bowen chose to add to the registration website are not California's top 10 most-used languages.

The newly added languages are Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Tagalog, Thai and Vietnamese. The website has offered online voter registration in English and Spanish since 2012.

Many more Californians speak Persian (180,269), Armenian (174,358)  Russian (142,278) and Arabic (129,813), than speak two of the state voter registration website's newly-added languages of Khmer (68,455) or Thai (41,448), according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Monrovia trucking company owner Melik Ekizian speaks Armenian and Arabic, and has no difficulty voting in English, but he said his elders in the Armenian community encounter a language barrier.

"One of the guys he told me I lived here for 30 years and I don't read and write," in English, Ekizian said. "It's kind of difficult for some folks to learn a second language or a third language."

The Secretary of State selected the 10 languages using criteria under the federal Voting Rights Act that looks at the concentration of voters in counties, and not their overall population in the state, said spokeswoman Shannan Velayas.

Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder already offers language assistance in the same 10 languages as the Secretary of State's new voter registration website. It's working on a new computerized voting system that could accommodate even more languages.

U.S. Census Bureau: Languages spoken in California