Coconino County election officials have provided translators at the polls for Navajo speakers. They have done the same for Hopi voters. But Yuma has them stumped. “There has never been a request for (Yuma),” said Coconino County Elections Administrator Patty Hansen. “So now we’re trying to find someone who can speak that language.”
Coconino was one of three Arizona counties that were told by the federal government in October that they would have to add voting assistance in the obscure language, which previously had been required only of Yuma County.
Those four were among 248 counties in 25 states whose populations require election assistance in other languages, according to the Census Bureau. Under the Voting Rights Act, assistance can be required in jurisdictions where a minority with poor English skills makes up 5 percent of the voting-age population and has literacy levels below the national average. But in Arizona, Yuma County officials said they have never received call for assistance in the language, although they claim they are ready if anyone asks.
Of the other two counties that received notice this fall, Yavapai said it has since been told by the Justice Department that it does not need to provide Yuma assistance, and Mohave officials said local tribal leaders have told them they won’t need the help. Coconino, however, is still on the hook. And that’s proving to be a challenge.
“I can’t tell you exactly how many speakers of Yuma there are now, but certainly not too many. I’d guess under 100,” said Pam Munro, a linguistic professor at University of California, Los Angeles. Munro said it would be hard to find Yuma speakers, but there are some.