Majority of Alabama Voters Support English-Only Driver's License Exams

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:22pm EDT

( - Seven out of 10 Alabama voters disagree with a Montgomery County judge's decision that state officials can continue to conduct driver's license exams in foreign languages, a new poll finds.

Results of the poll show 95 percent of Alabama voters agreed that English should be the official language on driver's license exams, higher than the 89 percent who voted for a constitutional amendment to make English the state's official language in a 1990 voter referendum.

"This poll shows there is a huge gulf between state officials and the people of Alabama over the issue of letting people who cannot understand English get driver's licenses," ProEnglish Executive Director K.C. McAlpin said in a statement.

"There has to be a limit to multi-lingual pandering. And that limit is crossed by policies like Alabama's, that not only violate the state's constitution, but endanger public safety," McAlpin added.

The poll also found that 84 percent of voters agreed that allowing immigrants to take driver's license exams in their native language was a threat to public safety, while 93 percent agreed that requiring immigrants to take exams in English would encourage them to learn English.

The poll of 800 registered voters was taken Feb. 9 to 14. It was conducted by Tel Opinion Research Inc., a Lance Tarrance public opinion research firm, and commissioned by ProEnglish, a Virginia-based group that supports English as an official language.

Seven years after state officials stopped giving driver's license exams in other languages as a result of the 1990 vote to make English the state's official language, that policy was challenged and overturned in federal court.

The state appealed the ruling, and in 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Alabama could require that exams be taken in English. Despite this, state officials decided to continue to allow driver's license applicants to take exams in one of 13 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Farsi.

ProEnglish is appealing a Feb. 2 adverse ruling by Circuit Judge William A. Shashy on a lawsuit by five of its Alabama members who sought to reinstate the English-only rule on conducting driver's license exams.

The plaintiffs, who were represented by the Southeastern Legal Foundation, argued that the change is required to comply with the state constitution.

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