Census Data Shows Where Bilingual Ballots Are Needed
October 13, 2011

LAS VEGAS -- New data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that some 248 counties across the country will have to provide translated ballots and voting materials in the next election. That number is down from what was required following the 2000 census.

Under the Federal Voting Rights Act, if a county has 5 percent or 10,000 voters who speak a minority language but are not proficient in English, then that county has to provide voting materials and voting assistance in that other language.

Las Vegas voting rights attorney James Tucker said translated ballots and bilingual poll workers can make the difference of whether or not non-English speaking voters can participate.

“You’ve got a large population of voters here who are U.S. citizens, whether by birth or naturalized, who haven’t had the educational opportunities that some of the rest of us are fortunate enough to have,” Tucker said.

He added: “They will go to vote and without that assistance, it often times becomes a hollow exercise because they don't understand what they are being given.”

Jurisdictions that fail to provide materials in a required foreign language risk a lawsuit from the Department of Justice. Congress added the language assistance requirement to the Voting Rights Act in 1975.

In Southern Nevada, the growing Filipino population means election officials will have to translate ballots not only into Spanish, but also Tagalog for the first time. Yet changing demographics also mean that five Nevada counties no longer have to offer that same service for American Indian languages, including Shoshone and Paiute.

In fact, on a national scale, the number of counties that must translate for Native Americans dropped significantly.

An analysis by Tucker found that while as of 2002 there were 81 jurisdictions in 18 states that had to provide voting assistance in American Indian languages, that number fell to 33 jurisdictions in 5 states this year.

The exception was Arizona and New Mexico, where several counties must continue to provide language assistance in Native American languages such as Tohono O’Odham, Navajo and Pueblo.

Los Angeles County remained the county in the country with the most diverse language populations. In addition to Spanish, Korean, Japanese, Filipino, Vietnamese and Chinese, election officials there will add Hindi and another unspecified Asian language to the list for the next election.