Weld County has learned that data indicating if it is one of 16 counties in Colorado that will be required to provide election materials in Spanish will not be available in time for the 2011 elections.
Weld County Clerk and Recorder, Steve Moreno, said, at a meeting with the Secretary of State’s office last week, he was told the census bureau would not have the data available until late September or early October. The 2011 ballots are currently in the process of being prepared for printing.
Under the 1973 Voting rights Act, areas with large Latino, Asian, American Indian and Alaskan populations must provide election materials in those languages if more than 5 percent of voting-age residents are part of a single-language minority language group, provided that group also has depressed literacy rates.
Andrew Cole, a spokesman for Colorado Secretary of State, Scott Gessler’s, office explained how the census data arrives at their determination. “The Census Bureau takes data from the American Community Survey in their calculations. They compare the number of citizens, who are voting age, who indicate that they speak one of the covered languages (in this case Spanish), and also indicate they speak English less than very well. They compare this number against the total voting age population of the county in order to determine if the county meets the 5 percent number.”
The American Community Survey was a controversial portion of the census that asked questions some considered an invasion of privacy. The ACS asked questions such as, “Do you have a flush toilet, how many vehicles do you have; and how many people ride in your car to work”?
The survey also asks for detailed information about finances, such as how utilities are paid for, and information about employment. Not every household received the ACS, but the census bureau said those receiving them were required to fill out all of the detailed information or face a $5,000 fine.
If a county falls under DOJ requirements to print information in one of the covered languages it must do much more than simply print all materials in that particular language.
In a brochure for election officials, the DOJ says affected counties must also print all materials in the various dialects that may be spoken among members of the minority community. “There can be significant differences in dialect within a given language group, and it is the responsibility of local officials to provide a translation that local voters actually can use.”
If Weld County falls under the requirement to print ballots in Spanish, it is also expected to actively reach out to members of the Spanish community. “The cornerstone of every successful program is a vigorous outreach program to identify the needs and communication channels of the minority community.”
The brochure went on to say, “By talking to a broad range of people in the minority community – educators, business groups, labor groups, ESL programs, parent-teacher organizations, senior citizen groups, church groups, social and fraternal organizations, veterans groups, and the like – election officials will be able to identify the most effective and most efficient program possible: where to post notices, what media to use, where to have bilingual poll officials.”
Moreno showed the Gazette a sample copy of the 2008 ballot printed in both languages. The ballot was over three pages long and filled out on both sides. When asked about the cost of compliance, Moreno said a conservative estimate would be an additional $100,000 per election.
Moreno, who is Latino, said he has responded to concerns by organizations such as the Colorado Progressive Coalition, which has been pressuring the county to provide bi-lingual materials regardless of the federal mandates.
“We’ve put people in place to help assist those who do not read or speak English. There is not a huge outcry for Spanish ballots among the Hispanic and Latino community.”
Moreno said another concern with printing a ballot in both languages, is that some individuals voting by mail may not send the entire ballot in. “This could cause some to question the integrity of our counting. For example, if there are a greater number of votes for candidates than for initiatives it could suspicions we are not counting the votes correctly.”
Some have suggested a compromise solution would be to have a person indicate which ballot language they prefer when they register to vote. This would help the county save money by helping to identify how many registered voters actually want Spanish ballots. Moreno said the suggestion would probably not pass muster with the DOJ as people may feel pressured to select English when they register to vote.
Moreno said it is always a challenge to determine the number of ballots to print. “Deciding how many ballots to print up is always a mystery. I have talked to former legislators and county clerks and there is no magic formula.”
Moreno said, since he has been clerk and recorder, the county has taken steps to become more efficient in printing ballots to avoid a large surplus after an election. Weld County has a machine called “ballot on demand” which allows them to print extra ballots on election day if needed.
The county has been using the machine for the past few elections and Moreno said the county has saved money by having the machine available.
Moreno says he believes the ACLU is watching Colorado carefully to see what the federal government will decide regarding election materials.
The ACLU has gone on record as opposing any type of voter identification to be eligible to vote. In an e-mail sent to supporters, Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU legislative office, said, “The ACLU is opposed to any form of voter ID.”
Critics have said not requiring any type of identification to register to vote or cast a ballot creates a situation ripe for election fraud.