The Public Eye

The Public Eye: Election diversity is a test of tongues

Published: Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 - 8:18 am

Election officials in Sacramento and dozens more counties got a glimpse this month at how California's diverse population will affect how they plan for the next gubernatorial election in June 2014.

An early analysis from the secretary of state shows officials that they are going to have to do more for voters who have difficulty reading English.

That will include hiring people to translate ballots into multiple languages for display at some polling places.

These facsimiles are not official ballots, but can be used by voters to mark their English-language ballots. And they can be taken into voting booths as an aid.

In Sacramento County, translations will be needed for Hindi-, Japanese- and Korean-language voters in precincts where these language groups make up at least 3 percent of the voters.

Those are in addition to the Tagalog- and Vietnamese-language translations already posted in some Sacramento County precincts.

Currently, Sacramento County election ballots are printed in English, Spanish and Chinese because each represents at least 5 percent of county citizens of voting age.

"The 5 percent is a federal law. It applies to all voting material," said Registrar Jill LaVine. "Any voting information we provide in English must be provided in Spanish and Chinese.

"This is very expensive since we are required to translate all material. We also are required to form an advisory group and do outreach to each of these languages (Spanish and Chinese) for assistance."

So far, the number of precincts affected by the facsimile ballots on display is small.

In the November election, for example, translations of ballots into Tagalog, a language common in the Philippines, were posted at 13 of the county's 470 precincts, said LaVine.

Ballots translated in Vietnamese were posted at 19 precincts, she said.

In addition, LaVine said the county provided translators at a number of polling places for voters of Hmong and Russian descent.

In Yolo County, the number of Spanish-speaking voters has declined as second- and third-generation Latino populations have embraced English, said Jeffrey Barry, chief deputy clerk-recorder.

As a result, the county no longer prints and circulates the ballot in any other language except English.

For the June 2014 election, Yolo County likely will put on display at some polling places facsimile ballots in Spanish, Chinese and Tagalog.

In Contra Costa County, Japanese and Korean languages will be added to the language lineup at some polling places, according to the secretary of state's report.

Part of the challenge can be finding translators and interpreters.

"If there's a large ethnic base, you have a reasonable chance to get a fair number of poll workers that speak that language," said Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder Steve Weir.

A committee of the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials plans to help counties connect with interpreters or translators.

The president of that association, Shasta County's Registrar Cathy Darling Allen, said providing such an array of election materials adds a layer of complexity and cost.

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