More Colorado counties may need Spanish ballots
An increase in Spanish speakers could require 16 more Colorado counties to provide election materials in that language.
County clerks are awaiting federal notification within the month on whether they must provide election materials in Spanish as well as English under the Voting Rights Act.
The Colorado secretary of state’s office says there’s a chance the entire state could be ordered to provide dual-language ballots.
Ten counties already are required to provide dual-language ballots or interpreters. Two counties, Montezuma and LaPlata, provide Ute and Navajo interpreters because those languages are spoken rather than written.
The 16 additional counties say they don’t have much time to prepare for elections this November. The counties that expect to be affected have been in regular phone conferences with the secretary of state about how to make the transition. They have also been seeking advice from the 10 Colorado counties that already must provide dual-language ballots or interpreters.
But with less than a month left before ballots must be certified for the Nov. 1 off-year elections, they are still on hold, unsure whether they will have to add poll workers and interpreters or deal with additional printing costs.
“We are trying to be proactive, but we are at the mercy of the Department of Justice,” said Garfield County Clerk Jean Alberico.
The 1973 Voting Rights Act requires areas with large Latino, Asian, American Indian and Alaskan populations to provide voting materials in the languages spoken by those populations. All election materials, including notices, instructions, ballots, sample ballots and voter-information pamphlets must be printed in the language of the affected population. Multilingual poll workers are also required.
The trigger for these election requirements isn’t simply based on the newest census population figures. The Justice Department uses a formula that includes figuring out from long-form census responses whether more than 5 percent of all voting-age residents of an area have limited English proficiency. More than 10,000 residents with limited proficiency also triggers the requirement.
The requirement is also linked to the location of American Indian reservations. If the rate of reservation residents who haven’t completed the fifth grade is higher than the national rate, the dual-language requirement is triggered.
Secretary of State Scott Gessler is looking into the possibility that those Colorado counties that will be newly covered under the language requirement will be able to ask voters for their preference of language on ballots.
“We’re still in the discussion phase on that,” said Gessler spokesman Rich Coolidge.
Gessler’s office has established a new Spanish round table to talk about dual-language elections as well as other issues pertaining to Spanish-speaking voters. Gessler has made much of the secretary of state’s website available in Spanish.
Coolidge said the secretary’s office has not yet been able to figure out a “drop-dead date” for getting election materials printed in dual languages on time for certification or to decide if clerks will be able to offer voters a choice.
“It’s a learning experience for all of us,” Alberico acknowledged. “We’ve been talking about this for a year.”