The Denver Post had a story this weekend about the likelihood that 16 counties in Colorado will soon be required to make ballots and other election materials available in Spanish.
These requirements will be driven by 2010 Census data and required by Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 203 uses the Census data to identify jurisdictions in which the citizens voting age population in a single language group within the jurisdiction 1) is more than 10,000, OR 2) is more than five percent of all voting age citizens, OR 3) on an Indian reservation, exceeds five percent of all reservation residents AND the illiteracy rate of the group is higher than the national illiteracy rate.
For all the attention that Section 5 of the Act has gotten in recent years – because of the requirement that covered jurisdictions get federal approval for changes to voting laws and procedures – it is easy to make a case that Section 203 directly affects far more voters on a regular basis. After the 2000 Census, the U.S. Department of Justice determined that 425 states and localities were required to offer voting materials in alternate languages. As the Colorado story suggests, that number is poised to grow after the 2010 Census.
While Section 203 compliance does require time, effort and money to accomplish, the good news for election officials in new jurisdictions this year is that their 400-plus colleagues in existing Section 203 communities already have experience and materials that can be adapted to newcomers’ needs.