Census Bureau Releases List of Jurisdictions to Offer Voter Language Assistance

The U.S. Census Bureau has released a new list of jurisdictions required to offer language assistance as mandated by the Voting Rights Act. Check and see if your area is covered.
by | October 12, 2011

Voters in 248 jurisdictions throughout the country will find instructions printed in multiple languages when they cast their ballots.

The U.S. Census Bureau released a list of jurisdictions earlier today required to offer language assistance to voters based on survey data. The Voting Rights Act mandates these areas provide assistance to Hispanic, American Indian, Alaska Native and Asian voters.

Election offices in many jurisdictions with large numbers of non-English speaking voters already provide ballots in multiple languages.

Requirements for the 248 jurisdictions, as outlined in Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, include translation of written materials, bilingual staff at polling places, community outreach and promotion of the availability of language assistance.

Most affected jurisdictions are counties. Three states – Florida, California and Texas – are also required to provide assistance to Hispanic voters.

Cook County, Ill., will provide assistance for three language groups, with the recent addition of Asian Indian.

County Clerk David Orr said planning ahead and training elections judges are key to implementing the measures.

For some, fulfilling the mandate becomes a political issue. Orr said his office occasionally hears from citizens who argue voter information should only be available in English.

"There is a disconnect between some of the electorate and the purpose of this law," he said.

But minority groups, Orr said, have appreciated the assistance.

"You tend to form wonderful alliances with some of these groups," he said. "It's great to encourage them to participate."

Nancy Reubert, communications director for the city and county of Denver's Clerk and Recorder's Office, said county election offices throughout the state have closely monitored the presence of non-English speaking groups in their communities.

“It’s not something that’s going to catch any of the counties that have to comply by surprise,” she said.

Denver-area Hispanic voters already receive materials in Spanish.

The office also aims to have a bilingual worker at every polling place. But with nearly 200 locations, it’s a challenge.

“It always takes a real effort to recruit them,” Reubert said.

Reubert said it's difficult to calculate the county’s bill for language assistance. Spanish instructions are printed on all ballots, though, and the office pays a contractor about $1,500 annually for certified translation services.

Similarly, Broward County, Fla., elections spokeswoman Evelyn Perez-Verdia said voters receive ballots with instructions printed in English, Spanish and Creole.

In 2008, about 1,000 bilingual workers manned local polling stations, Perez-Verdia said. The county’s voter outreach department also communicates with minority language groups and helps new U.S. citizens register to vote.

Because many elections workers are fluent in English and Spanish, Perez-Verdia said any additional costs are likely “very minimal.”

The Census Bureau determines jurisdictions subject to language requirements using five-year data compiled from the American Community Survey. Areas must offer assistance to voters for each language that meets one of the following:

  •  More than 5 percent of voting age citizens are considered part of the language minority group and have limited English proficiency;
  •  More than 10,000 voting age citizens belong to the language minority group and are limited-English proficient. In addition, the total voting age population with limited English proficiency and less than a fifth grade education must exceed the national rate.

The list of jurisdictions subject to language requirements will updated again in 2016.

Select a state from the menu below to view affected jurisdictions.

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