Editorials: The Language Barrier in the Voting Booth | Terry Ao Minnis & Adam Ambrogi/Governing

During the Democratic presidential caucus in Nevada last month, the issue of language assistance in elections came up front and center — and it was not pretty. Fingers pointed in all directions about what actually happened and who was to blame, but what is clear is that there were caucus participants who needed assistance in Spanish to fully understand the process and their options and that they did not receive this essential help. This incident highlights how important language assistance in the political process is and why more must be done to ensure that language needs are being accommodated. Today in the United States, one in five people speak a language other than English at home, and of that population who are 15 or older 42 percent report having some difficulty with the English language. Despite the increases in the eligible voting populations of Latinos and Asian-Americans in recent decades, according to the Pew Research Center there continues to be a 15-20 percent gap in voting participation rates between those voters and whites. While a variety of factors can contribute to a voter’s inability to participate in the election process, in many communities language barriers are a huge obstacle.

Georgia: County rejects call for ballots in Spanish; sets up possible court battle | Fox News Latino

Despite pleas from two Latino rights groups, a Georgia county has rejected a request to provide Spanish-language ballots for the upcoming November elections. Officials in Gwinnett County voted 4-1 against the motion and defended the move by saying they do not have enough information to determine whether the county should provide bilingual ballots and voting materials. The two groups who filed the request – the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO) and the New York-based LatinoJustice – cited a provision of the federal Voting Rights Act that requires local governments to make Spanish-language ballots available to people from Puerto Rico who have difficulty reading English. This law was designed to help Puerto Ricans – who are American citizens – who move to mainland of the U.S.

Alaska: Feds say state election officials wrong on Native language rules | Anchorage Daily News

A federal judge on Wednesday overruled state election officials and said the constitutional right to vote requires Alaska to translate all election materials into Native languages for voters with limited English skills. Siding with village plaintiffs in a voting rights lawsuit against Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and three other Alaska election officials, U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason ruled that as a matter of law, the state is obligated to match all English materials — including pamphlets, instructions, registration materials and ballots — with Yup’ik, Cup’ik and Gwich’in translations. Gleason still plans to conduct a trial at the end of the month into whether the state Elections Division, headed by Treadwell, is in violation of the U.S. Voting Rights Act’s language requirements, and if so, what remedial steps should be taken. The lawsuit was brought by the Anchorage office of the nonprofit Native American Rights Fund on behalf of four Native villages in western Alaska and the Interior and two Western Alaska elders with limited English proficiency. Treadwell is running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.

Colorado: Weld County awaits federal decision on providing bilingual voting materials | Greeley Tribune

As the 2011 election season nears, Weld County is among 16 counties in Colorado that are waiting to find out whether they will be required to provide election materials in Spanish in November. The U.S. Department of Justice will hand down the decision in the next month, and county clerks will have to comply with the guidelines under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act.

The 1973 Voting Rights Act states that areas with large Latino, Asian, American Indian and Alaskan populations provide voting materials in languages spoken by these minorities. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, that requirement affects counties in which more than 5 percent of voting-age residents are members of a single minority language group, provided that group also has depressed literacy rates. This data is determined by the most recent census.