EUGENE, Ore. – Every five years, the U.S. Census Bureau releases a list of voting areas required to translate ballots into other languages in addition to English.
The last list, released in October 2011, identified 248 jurisdictions across the U.S. on the hook for translating ballots and all other outreach materials in fulfillment of the Voting Rights Act amendment of 1975. Between 2002 and 2011, the number of citizens who needed translations jumped 42.7 percent, according to a news release from the bureau.
To determine the places to add to its list, the bureau looks for large populations of citizens who are proficient in the same language, but who don’t speak English very well.
The 2011 list expires this year. Although the bureau has not established an official release date, James Whitehorne of the bureau’s Voting Rights Data Office, told News21 to expect it this summer.
The question is – will the list help this year’s voters?
In locations added to the list, it’s too late to offer English-limited citizens full participation in the 2016 election since the presidential primaries end on June 14. And time is running short to translate everything by the general election in November.
Neil Albrecht, director of Milwaukee’s Election Commission, said the translation and hiring process takes a while. After the city was mandated in 2011 to provide election materials in Spanish, it only took a couple of months to translate ballots and signage, Albrecht said.
But recruiting and training poll workers took about six months.
“I think we recognized that prior to the (voting rights) mandates, there were some pretty significant language barriers for people in voting,” Albrecht said. “Turning that around, making an experience like voting into a positive experience that makes voters trust and want to return doesn’t happen overnight.”
Follow Sami on Twitter @sami_edge. Come back in August to see the full News21 “Voting Wars” report.