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Section 203 Language Determinations

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Section 203 Language Provisions of the Voting Rights Act

Language minority provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) require that certain states and political subdivisions provide language assistance during elections for certain language minority groups who are unable to speak or understand English adequately enough to participate in the electoral process. The language provisions of the VRA were introduced in the 1975 reauthorization with the first listing of Section 203 covered jurisdictions being issued following the 1980 Census. The determinations were released again following the 1990 and 2000 Census as prescribed by law. The 2006 reauthorization of the VRA extended the language provisions through the year 2032 and instructed the Census Bureau on two changes: use the American Community Survey as the primary data source; and conduct the determinations every five years rather than every ten years, as was done previously.

The language minority groups covered by Section 203 are those that speak Asian, American Indian, Alaska Native, and Spanish languages.

Determinations for each state, county or county subdivision (depending on which is the operating level of government), and American Indian Areas/Alaska Native Areas (AIA/ANA), are then computed based on the following:

  • If more than 5% of voting age citizens are limited-English proficient,


  • If more than 10,000 voting age citizens are limited-English proficient,


  • The rate of total voting age citizens that are limited-English proficient and have less than a 5th grade education is higher than the national rate.


  • The state, county, or county subdivision under consideration is covered for that specific minority group of Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act.


  • If it is determined that an AIA/ANA meets the above criteria, then any political subdivision that contains that AIA/ANA is covered.  
  • Statewide coverage can only be triggered by the 5% criteria; the 10,000 person criteria does not apply for statewide coverage.
  • 2021
  • 2016
  • 2011
  • 2002

Section 203 Determinations - Published December 08, 2021

Official 2021 Federal Register Notice Listing Covered Jurisdictions

December 08, 2021

web Federal Register Notice Vol. 86, No. 233
This is the official 2021 notification of the jurisdictions determined as covered by one or more languages under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 203 Determinations Public Use Dataset

The Census Bureau identified a modeling error impacting estimates generated as inputs to the Section 203 language determinations published December 8, 2021. This error affected two language groups, Houma and Alaskan Native tribes not specified, resulting in values being uncalculated when they should have been filled with predicted values. The plurality of the missing values had Limited English Proficient percentages close to zero and therefore would have likely been suppressed in the public use file. None of the values would have changed the published language determinations so no new data release will be made. This error had no effect on the final 2021 Section 203 language determinations.

zip The 2021 Section 203 Public Use Dataset and Technical Documentation [4.33]
This public use data file and documentation provide the underlying calculations used to make the 2021 Section 203 Determinations.

Executive Summary and Paper on the Methodology Used for the 2021 Determinations

Executive Summary and Paper on the 2021 Determinations' Methodology

As enacted in 1965 and amended in 1982 and 2006, Section 203(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires that a State or political subdivision in certain circumstances must provide language assistance during elections for groups of citizens who are unable to speak or understand English well enough to participate in the electoral process. These circumstances are defined in Section 203(b) in terms of specific determinations involving the sizes and proportions of designated population subgroups as measured by the most current American Community Survey (ACS) and other census data. Section 203(b) as amended prescribes that the Director of the Census Bureau shall make these determinations every 5 years, based on population estimates derived from the ACS, and allows for the use of other relevant census data. This document summarizes the statistical methodology behind the 2021 determinations based on 2015-2019 5-year ACS data and released on December 8, 2021 (https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2021-26547).

Additional Section 203 Support Products

pdf Section 203 Decision Flow Diagram [<1.0 MB]
How the law prescribes the calculation of the determination of covered areas under the Section 203 provisions of the Voting Rights Act.
pdf Section 203 Comparison Tables [<1.0 MB]
A series of tables comparing the Section 203 Determinations over time, from 2002 to current.
Page Last Revised - December 28, 2022
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