Alamosa News | New law expands threshold for providing multilingual voting services in Colorado

COLORADO – In the November 2022 election, 20 Colorado counties will be required to provide Spanish-language voting materials thanks to a new state law lowering population thresholds to support multilingual voters – but some counties have already made the leap to help long before they are required to.

The Multilingual Voter Ballot Access Act establishes a statewide telephone hotline that the Secretary of State’s office will operate during election season to provide translation services for the language of the ballot. It also requires Colorado counties with a minority language spoken by at least 2,000 voting-age citizens or 2.5% of voting-age citizens to provide a sample ballot in that language online, and voters can request a live ballot in the language at the following address. individual voting centers too.

The bill passed in the 2021 legislative session after being pushed back due to COVID the previous year, and the November 2022 election will be the first time municipalities will be required to comply.

“With the new multilingual hotline and expanded access to multilingual ballots, all eligible Coloradans can feel confident to vote,” Secretary of State Jena Griswold said in an email. “As Secretary of State, it is my duty to hold accessible elections for every eligible Colorado, regardless of zip code, political affiliation or native language. I am proud to make this important resource available to Colorado voters.

Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act enacted federal requirements to provide multilingual ballots under higher thresholds. Only six Colorado counties — Adams, Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Denver and Saguache — were required to provide Spanish-language voting materials under federal regulations. Under the new Colorado law, that number increases to 20 counties: Adams, Alamosa, Arapahoe, Bent, Boulder, Conejos, Costilla, Denver, Eagle, El Paso, Fremont, Garfield, Jefferson, Lincoln, Montrose, Morgan, Prowers , Rio Grande, Saguache and Weld.

Colorado also has two counties — La Plata and Montezuma — that qualify federally for language services in Ute, which officials from the Secretary of State’s office say can be a challenge because Ute is not a written language. This means that these counties primarily use translation services instead of providing translated ballots.

Counties with experience

Some of the counties required to provide multilingual ballots have already done so either because of federal requirements or because their clerk’s offices allocate funds to support multilingual voters.

Arapahoe County does not meet federal requirements for multilingual ballots, and while eligible under new state law, it has been using its own resources to provide language assistance since the first 2020 election.

Peg Perl, Arapahoe County Chief Electoral Officer, said the county began by providing a sample ballot in Spanish online and at a voting center because it is the second most common language. in the county behind English. The county also has its own hotline to provide translation services in about 100 languages ​​year-round to anyone who calls the Arapahoe County election hotline or comes to the election office to register.

When the Multilingual Ballot Access Act went through the legislative process, Perl said the Arapahoe County Clerk testified on his behalf and shared information about the work already done in their county. The only big change they’ll have to make under Colorado’s new law is to have live Spanish-language ballots onsite at voting centers for those who request them, which Perl called ” the last piece of the puzzle”.

Perl said setting up translation services across the state would benefit people who want to vote without the help of a family member or friend translating for them and knowing what they’re voting for. and why. Since implementing sample ballots and translation services in Arapahoe County, Perl said the office has received nothing but positive feedback, even though only a few people have taken advantage of the services.

Denver has already been required to provide Spanish voting materials under federal law, so the change won’t be as drastic for the state’s largest city either. Denver Clerk and Clerk Information Officer Alton Dillard said Denver even provided bilingual election materials before the federal term and it had been “a priority for years.”

Denver has also had a permanent Spanish-language advisory council called Acceso to support the city’s Spanish-speaking voters since 2010, and before that it had some kind of ad hoc advisory council as early as 2002, Dillard said.

“They are our eyes and ears in the Spanish-speaking community, and they’re also working with us to create a glossary of Spanish election terms because there are different types of Spanish spoken in different parts of the country,” Dillard said.

As of 2019, Dillard said Denver used census data to provide ballot samples in five languages ​​other than English and Spanish in anticipation of potentially hitting the federal threshold in census data. delayed from 2020. These languages ​​are Amharic, Arabic, Russian, Somali and Vietnamese.

While Denver also had its own translation hotline, going forward it will rely on the state’s, while Arapahoe County elected to retain its year-round hotline for additional services in the clerk’s office.

First election under law

The secretary of state’s office said it has been in contact with all 20 eligible counties throughout the summer and will provide more specific signage and instructions once the ballots come out Oct. 17 and that the state hotline will be launched.

In Weld County, Clerk Carly Koppes said her office is working with Latin American coalition groups in Greeley as well as other community members to determine the best dialect of Spanish the county should use. for his ballots. One of the challenges is figuring out the best way to translate the legal terms included in the ballot questions, Koppes said, because they’re not in plain language.

Weld County also already had a relationship with a translation service, so for convenience, Koppes said his office had the translators prepare a Spanish version of the 2020 ballot so they could see how well the process would go smoothly. Once her office received the Spanish translation, she asked her Spanish-speaking staff to review it and share their thoughts.

Before preparing to finalize the Weld County ballots, however, Koppes said his office brought in more community members because the county’s chosen dialect does not include a specific word for “problem.” or “city”. Koppes said she wanted the language to be as consistent as possible. Therefore, hearing thoughts from various communities in Weld County on what would work best helped prepare for the first year.

“We know we’re probably going to get some criticism and that’s to be expected, but we wanted to try and make it as accurate as possible with a translation into a different language when there are so many dialects and there isn’t one direct word-for-word translation,” Koppes said.

Koppes said she also asked organizations submitting ballot questions to provide a translation, which her team would then review with the translation service.

Prior to the new law, Koppes said Weld County tried to ensure a Spanish speaker was present at its in-person voting centers to assist anyone who may have needed it, in addition to their relationship with a Boulder-based translation service.

The secretary of state’s office said translators working for the state hotline will focus only on the language of the ballot and refrain from commenting or expanding on the meaning of the language. The hotline will likely be available while voter services and voting centers are open. When someone calls the hotline for translation assistance, it will become a three-way call between the voter, the translator, and a poll worker to read the language of the ballot.

“This law will be another tool to foster a culture of participation by removing barriers to the ballot box for eligible voters,” Dillard said. “We view this law as the foundation of what election officials should provide, and where possible we always try to go above and beyond for our voters here in Denver.”

Importance for democracy

In a representative democracy like the United States, citizens have the right to vote for their elected officials, but if they do not understand the language in which they are voting, they do not have the same fair opportunity to do so.

“If this is going to be a representative democracy, you want it to reflect your country, your city, your county, and everyone to have unrestricted access to it if they’re an eligible voter,” Dillard said.

One of the most crucial aspects of the new law is to ensure that everyone has the best chance of understanding what is being asked of them on the ballot. Both Perl and Koppes pointed out that it’s difficult for most people to understand what a voting question asks in their first language, let alone their second or third.

“Being able to have more documents in a language you know better just helps you be a better informed voter, which makes voters more confident and more likely to vote, in my view, at all elections,” Perl said, “Because we don’t want people to vote only when the president is on the ballot. We want them to vote last year when it was school board and city council. We want them to vote all the time, and that has to do with being very confident about what the issues are…and how you want to vote on those issues.

Both Perl and Koppes pointed out that voting is the primary way citizens can contribute to their government. Koppes said this is the key opportunity for someone not interested in running for office to have a voice.

“The ballot, to me, is the biggest equalizer we have as American citizens,” Koppes said. “This is how we interact with our living, breathing government. You have the ability to have a vote, and your ballot, it doesn’t know or care if you have 2 million dollars in the bank or if you have two cents in the bank.

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