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Office seekers use Chinese words when translating names on ballot

JudychuWhen Li Zheng Ping ran for Superior Court judge in San Francisco last year, he seemed destined to do well with Chinese-speaking voters.

His common Chinese last name, Li, made him instantly familiar. And his first name, Zheng Ping — which means "Correct Fair" — could not have been more tailor-made for the job.

Small matter that the man going by the name Li Zheng Ping was not, in fact, Chinese.

In using a Chinese name for campaign purposes, Michael Nava simply was taking advantage of a little-known, perfectly legal opportunity.

And for good reason.

According to the latest census, Asian Americans now make up 15.5% of California's population. Their population has grown 33% in the last decade, while the state's population as a whole has grown 10%.

But roughly 40% of the state's Asian American voters speak limited English, said Eugene Lee, voting rights project director for the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles.

"A lot of ethnic voters only read the ethnic media. They only recognize the candidate names in those languages," he said.

The federal Voting Rights Act requires that when state and local jurisdictions have sizable numbers of people who speak limited English, ballots and other election-related information be translated.

But it does not regulate the conversion of English names into languages such as Chinese. State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) is trying to change that.

"This is an issue that affects the integrity of the ballot," said Yee. "There are no rules on the books to deal with it."

In 2009, Yee, whose Mandarin name is Yu Yin Liang, got a bill through the Legislature that would have required candidates to use phonetic transliterations of their names in election materials printed in character-based scripts such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean — unless they could prove they already had established character-based names, either given to them at birth or in regular use for at least two years.

Read more about office seekers using Chinese ballot names.

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-- Ching-Ching Ni

Photo: Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) used this bilingual campaign brochure when she ran for Congress in 2009. A rival candidate had used a Chinese name that was very similar to Chu's. The only character that was different was "Xin," which means "heart" in Chinese. To distinguish their candidate, Chu's staff came up with the visual campaign featuring a big red heart.

 
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