King County Elections relies on census data to determine languages for ballots

October 25, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Law requires elections office to offer materials in Vietnamese

King County is often celebrated as a melting pot and, reflecting a demographic shift recorded in the most recent census, ballots should soon start to include another language spoken in the community.

Under a provision in the U.S. Voting Rights Act, King County is required to create and offer election materials in Vietnamese.

The county is home to about 28,000 Vietnamese speakers — enough to trigger the federal threshold for election materials in Vietnamese. Data collected in the 2010 Census determined King County needed to add the language.

The elections office already produces instructional election information and ballot packets in English and Chinese.

The elections office could spend $50,000 to $70,000 per year to add elections materials in Vietnamese, although King County Elections spokeswoman Kim van Ekstrom said the figure is a rough estimate.

What to know

The countdown to Election Day is on as ballots arrive in mailboxes.

Options abound for local voters to learn about City Council, Issaquah School Board and regional races.

City Council candidates recorded statements for the Issaquah Video Voters’ Guide. See the guide on Issaquah Channel 21 daily at 7 and 8 a.m. until Oct. 31. Or watch at 8 p.m. from Oct. 27-31.

Channel 21 also airs the King County Video Voters’ Guide — a resource for countywide and King County Council races — daily after the Issaquah guide.

In addition, King County Elections mailed a local voters’ pamphlet — a guide to Issaquah, school district, special district and county races. See the complete guide at www.kingcounty.gov/elections. Follow the “Current elections” and “Local voters’ pamphlet” links.

For statewide issues, such as ballot initiatives, the Secretary of State’s Office sent a separate statewide voters’ pamphlet to residents. See the complete guide at www.sos.wa.gov/elections. Follow the “2011 General Election Voters’ Guide” link.

The federal government does not provide funding for the elections office to add Vietnamese election materials.

The threshold requires jurisdictions to add a language for election materials if more than 5 percent or more than 10,000 voting-age citizens speak the language.

“We anticipated that the recent census would bring at least one additional language requirement,” Elections Director Sherril Huff said in a statement. “We have successfully complied with our past language requirements and we have already begun discussing how to address this additional translation requirement.”

The elections office hires translators to interpret ballots from English to Chinese. Officials could do the same to create Vietnamese election materials, or contract out the process.

Huff announced the additional language requirement Oct. 12 — too late to create Vietnamese materials for the Nov. 8 election. However, if a voter requested a ballot in Vietnamese for the upcoming election, the office is bound by law to comply.

“Once you are told that the language requirement is in place, it’s now in place, but we don’t have to go back and reprint ballots because that job was already done,” van Ekstrom said. “The language requirement is now in place and so for future elections, all ballots will be printed in both languages assuming that they’ve been requested.”

County elections staffers plan to start identifying Vietnamese-language voters soon for assistance in future elections.

Statewide, the law requires Adams, Franklin and Yakima counties to print ballots and election materials in Spanish. Nationwide, 248 jurisdictions must provide language assistance for groups unable to speak or understand English adequately enough to participate in elections.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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