Salt Lake County Still Letting Voters Use Spanish Ballots, Despite Dropped Federal Requirement
Salt Lake County is still translating ballots into Spanish for this election cycle, even though it’s no longer required to by the federal government.
Under the federal Voting Rights Act, voting jurisdictions must provide language assistance if at least 5 percent of all eligible voters belong to a single-language minority and have limited proficiency in English language, meaning it would be difficult for them to vote without assistance.
The U.S. Census Bureau dropped that requirement for Salt Lake County after the 2016 election, citing a Latino population that is growing both in numbers and English language proficiency.
That means Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen is no longer required to provide election materials in Spanish. But she says this year, she still put out voter registration forms, signage, ballots and other materials in both English and Spanish.
“I didn’t want to not provide that” to voters who have previously received election materials in Spanish, Swensen said. “So, we do.”
She said her office also mailed out about 800 Spanish-language ballots, while people who vote in person can also choose between English and Spanish on voting machines.
San Juan County is the only voting jurisdiction in Utah required to provide language assistance for election materials. With a large Navajo population, the southeast Utah county clerk's website has audio files of election information spoken in the Navajo language.
A new report from the Pew Research Center shows Hispanic voters are more engaged this election cycle. It also found a majority strongly disapprove of President Donald Trump and his immigration policies.
One thing Swensen is not doing this year is a Spanish-translated voter information pamphlet. In the most recent election cycle, her office translated the portions of the state voter information pamphlet that pertained to Salt Lake County voters.
“We didn’t do that this time because we’re not under the provision,” Swensen said. “And it was a pretty tremendous task.”
That could disenfranchise some Spanish-speaking voters, said Ben Monterroso, executive director of the national Latino civic engagement group Mi Familia Vota.
“When you have a group of people not participating for lack of information, or information that is not in their native language, that is discouragement of voting,” he said.
But even more than information, Monterroso said, Hispanic voters crave engagement from candidates and political parties.
“The translation is important, but knowing the community and engaging with the community is equally, if not more important,” he said.
Latino participation in midterm elections has fallen steadily for the past decade, but as with most voting groups, Monterroso expects high-than-usual turnout among Latino voters in 2018.