In this community center turned polling place, Juan Sanchis stands near an electronic ballot reader with a smile on his face, waiting. Many of the voters filing into the Willston Community Center, in a diverse pocket of Fairfax County, don’t speak English very well. When it seems like the voters don’t understand, Sanchis switches over to Korean or Spanish, or gets a worker who speaks Vietnamese. Around him on the tables and walls, pamphlets and signs are translated into all three of those languages. “If they need help understanding, that’s what I try to do,” Sanchis said earlier this month, as Virginia primary voters went to the polls to choose candidates for a variety of state and local offices. As the country grows more diverse, more local governments like Fairfax County, a Washington, D.C., suburb, are falling under a federal election law that requires them to provide language assistance — including translators and translated election materials — to certain minority groups that are heavily represented in their communities. Dozens of communities were added to the list for the first time in December, sending local officials in those communities scrambling.
The number of governments subject to the law has increased in recent years, with language requirements added in 52 places, including some where another language was already required, in December. A total of 263 jurisdictions, representing almost a third of the voting-age population, are now covered. The rules pertain to places with at least 5 percent of the voting-age population or 10,000 residents who speak the same language and don’t speak English very well, as determined by the U.S. Census Bureau. Only certain languages are covered. Three states —California, Florida and Texas — must also meet the rules when providing election materials statewide.
For the local governments, the new costs of providing this assistance come at a time when many face tight budgets and the need to replace outdated ballot machines. Some, including Fairfax County, which was required to translate into Vietnamese for the first time this year, are doing the basics to meet the requirements and comply. Others, such as Montgomery County, Maryland, and King County, Washington, are taking it a step further, reaching out to minority communities before Election Day, and providing voter guides in multiple languages.
Full Article: Yo Voté: Communities Scramble to Translate Ballots.