Washington Law Review




The four individual plaintiffs, who were participating in a voter registration project initiated by the plaintiff Federation, appeared on separate occasions in the offices of the deputy voting registrars for the towns of Zillah and Toppenish, Washington, intending to register to vote. Each time, the applicants were accompanied by an interpreter associated with the Federation, who informed the registration officers that the applicants wished to register to vote and that he would act as Spanish-English interpreter. But the registration officers insisted that the applicants present their requests in person and in English, and refused to register them when it became apparent that the plaintiffs had not fully mastered the English language, although they were otherwise fully qualified as to age and citizenship. The registration officers acted pursuant to article VI, amendment 5, of the Washington constitution, which requires that persons otherwise qualified be "able to read and speak the English language" in order to vote in the state; more specifically, their refusals seem to have been prompted by R.C.W. § 29.07.070, which provides that: (h)aving administered the oath, the registration officer shall interrogate the applicant for registration ... requiring him to state: • ..(w)hether the applicant ... is able to read and speak the English language so as to comprehend the meaning of ordinary English prose, and in case the registration officer is not satisfied in that regard, he may require the applicant to read aloud and explain the meaning of some ordinary English prose .... Both the Federation and the individual plaintiffs brought suit against the county registration authorities and the State, asking that enforcement of the Washington literacy requirement be enjoined as unconstitutional, that Spanish-speaking registrars be ordered appointed, and that plaintiffs be permitted to register to vote. Plaintiffs contended, inter alia, that the literacy requirement infringed upon their rights under the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the United States Constitution, and that they had been given literacy tests violating the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Held: the Mexican-American Federation lacks standing to sue, and, in its application to the individual plaintiffs, the English literacy requirement is a valid exercise of state power and is not being administered in a discriminatory manner. Mexican-American Federation-Washington State v. Naff, 299 F. Supp. 587 (E.D. Wash. 1969).

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