Cook County, IL To Add Voting Materials in Eight New Languages

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Illinois’ Cook County (Chicago) has launched a new program to make ballots and other voting materials available in eight new languages in an effort to reach more voters. The Sun-Times has more:

Cook County voters will soon be able to request ballots in eight more languages besides the four already offered.

The Voting Opportunity and Translation Equity ordinance, which passed the County Board Thursday, would require the county clerk to offer fully translated ballots in eight more languages over the next two years.

The pilot program will begin with the March primary, when ballots will be offered in Korean and Tagalog.

Starting in November, ballots will be translated into six more languages, including Polish, Arabic and Russian. The translated ballots will be available electronically, by audio ballot and can be requested on an on-demand basis for mail-in ballots.

Printed translated ballots won’t begin until 2021.

The new program is aimed at expanding language access beyond those languages required by federal law in recognition of communities with large numbers of limited-English proficient voters:

In addition to English-language ballots, the clerk’s office is already required to provide language assistance in Spanish, Chinese and Hindi under amendments to the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1992. Voting touch screen machines are already equipped with ballots in English, Spanish, Chinese and Hindi.

Commissioner Scott Britton, D-Glenview, who was a sponsor of the county ordinance, said he was approached about adding additional languages while he was still a candidate.

“I realized that while federal law does not require those languages, they are large in numbers, and they have significant barriers that have been put up to those individuals, particularly in my district and the Korean population, who have not been able to exercise their franchise,” Britton said.

The list of languages could continue to grow:

Though the county is starting with eight languages, there is a possibility the ballots could be translated into more. In November 2020, and at least every three years after that, the county clerk or someone the clerk designates shall review data on limited English-proficient populations in the county to determine whether more languages should be added.

Leaders of those communities will be consulted in the decision-making process, according to the language of the ordinance. By February 2021, each single language that has more than 13,000 speakers will then get a fully translated ballot.

The county clerk will track the language data and information related to language access.

The goal of the program is to reduce the barriers some voters face at the polls:

Commissioner Kevin Morrison, D-Mount Prospect, one of the chief sponsors of the bill, said the ballot translation effort is in part to help immigrants and citizens who may not have “an easy opportunity to be able to read” have ballots that reflect the languages spoken at home.

“I think that especially in a time where we’re seeing governmental bodies impede the rights of U.S. citizens to the ballot box[],” Morrison said. “It’s exciting to be part of a process where we’re making it easier and alleviating some of those stressors involved with U.S. citizens being able to have their voices be heard at the polls.”

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said the ordinance’s goal of expanding access to voters is part of the county’s job.

“First of all, our job is to make ballot access as broad as possible, so I’m very grateful to commissioners Britton and Kevin Morrison who put forward this notion of expanding ballot access and increasing the number of languages that we provide to voters,” Preckwinkle said.

Cook County’s effort is similar to the broad language access we’ve seen in communities like Los Angeles County, CA, where there has been a recognition that federal law is an important first step but doesn’t always reach all voters to need language assistance. It will be interesting to watch Cook County roll out its new multilingual materials – and see if there are still more languages added to the list. Stay tuned …

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