NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Nashville voters rejected a proposal on Thursday that would have made it the largest U.S. city to require all government business be done in English.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, unofficial results showed the "English First" proposal was defeated on a vote of 41,752 to 32,144. Proponents said using one language would have united the city and saved money, but business leaders, academics and the city's mayor worried it could give the city a bad reputation. Similar measures have passed elsewhere.
It wasn't clear exactly how much translation would have been silenced had the measure passed. While it called for all government communication and publications to be printed in English, it would have allowed an exception for public health and safety.
The referendum's leader, city Councilman Eric Crafton, promoted it as a way to unite Nashville and prevent the kind of extensive translation services — and the associated expenses — provided by cities like New York or Los Angeles. He has pushed for English only since 2006 and got the issue before voters through a petition drive.
Business leaders, academics, religious leaders, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and Gov. Phil Bredesen argued the measure would tarnish the city's welcoming image, harm tourism and business recruitment and endanger federal funding for many city services.
Supporter Glenda Paul, 35, said having one language is an important part of keeping government small as she exited a voting precinct Thursday.
"If I moved to France to start a business, I would be expected to speak French and that doesn't mean that I am not welcome there. It just means I need to respect the language."
But Claire King, 31, who lives in East Nashville, said Thursday that she voted against the amendment because "it sends a message of intolerance." She said she thought multiple perspectives and languages enrich to the city's culture.
Nashville's documented translation expenses have totaled $522,287 since 2004. By comparison, the special election cost $300,000.
Thirty states, including Tennessee, and at least a dozen cities have declared English their official language, said K.C. McAlpin, executive director of Arlington, Va.-based ProEnglish, which donated money to support the referendum.
About 10 percent of Nashville's nearly 600,000 people speak a language other than English in their homes, according to census data. The city is 5 percent Hispanic and home to the nation's largest Kurdish community and refugees from Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa.