Translating into Votes: The Electoral Impact of Spanish-Language Ballots

17 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2009 Last revised: 23 Oct 2012

Date Written: April 25, 2011


This paper investigates the impact of one election procedure designed to enfranchise immigrants: foreign-language election materials. Specifically, it uses regression discontinuity design to estimate the turnout and election impacts of Spanish-language assistance provided under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act. Analyses of two different data sets - the Latino National Survey and California 1998 primary election returns - show that Spanish-language assistance increased turnout for citizens who speak little English. The California results also demonstrate that election procedures an influence outcomes, as support for ending bilingual education dropped markedly in heavily Spanish-speaking neighborhoods with Spanish-language assistance. Small changes in election procedures can influence who votes as well as what wins.

Keywords: Voting Rights Act, bilingual education, regression discontinuity, language assistance

JEL Classification: H72, D72, J61

Suggested Citation

Hopkins, Daniel J., Translating into Votes: The Electoral Impact of Spanish-Language Ballots (April 25, 2011). CELS 2009 4th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper, Available at SSRN: or

Daniel J. Hopkins (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Stiteler Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States


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