Illinois Supreme Court Finds Substantial Compliance Of Chinese Language Referendum Despite Inexact Translation

A referendum was held to determine whether the voters wanted liquor to be sold at retail in their precincts. The ballots were printed in English, Spanish, and Chinese. These consolidated lawsuits considered whether the translation of “sale at retail” to Chinese was substantial compliance with the statutory requirements of the Illinois Election Code.

The supreme court applied different standards of review to different parts of the question. “We again note that different standards of review apply to the factual and legal components of this issue. While the ultimate legal question of whether the use of the character xiao shou was in substantial compliance with the Act is reviewed de novo, the underlying factual matters will be reviewed under a manifest weight of the evidence standard.”

This method of analysis makes more sense than — as I suspect other courts would have done — using the “mixed question of law and fact” standard of review. That standard, which looks more and more to represent a failure to face the more difficult analysis posed by the dual standards of review the court used here, asks whether the trial court’s decision was “clearly erroneous.”

In the end, the Illinois Supreme Court allowed the referendum results to stand. You can read the whole opinion in Samour, Inc. v. Board of Election Commissioners of the City of Chicago, Nos. 101902, 102227 (1/19/07), by clicking here.