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Election officials should offer voting materials in more languages

Mary Janet Ramos
Mary Janet Ramos
Opinion
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No matter our race, background or language that we speak, most of us believe that for a democracy to work for all of us, it must include all of us. Embracing the diverse communities that exist in our state includes enacting tangible policy measures that help increase engagement in the electoral process for voters whose primary language is not English. Secretary of State Barbara K. Cegavske and the Legislature must do more to make voting accessible for these Nevada voters, including ensuring the translation of voting information and materials in multiple languages, providing multilingual ballots and securing sustainable funding for election administrators to pay for professional translation services and voter outreach — so that every Nevadan can cast a ballot that counts. 

The 2020 census ranked our state as the third-most diverse in the country, with the fourth-largest population of residents who identify as Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) and the fifth-largest population who identify as Hispanic. Over the past 10 years, the Asian and Pacific Islander population grew 45.6 percent and the Hispanic community grew 24.3 percent in Nevada.

While most Nevada voters who identify themselves as AAPI or Hispanic speak English as their first language, many are limited in their ability to read, speak, write or understand English. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that more than 125,000 Nevadans over the age of 18 have limited English proficiency.

Nevada’s immigrants and children of immigrants – those who have become citizens and those born citizens – may have the right to vote, but that doesn’t mean they can make their voices heard. A voter's difficulty in speaking or reading English should not restrict their freedom to vote. 

The lack of translated and accessible election materials makes it difficult to participate in our democracy, and each election year, voters cast a ballot with hopes of weighing on issues they care about such as the economy, education and health care — all which impact everyone equally regardless of the language they speak. 

For starters, Cegavske’s office should serve as a hub for translated voter education information and election updates, providing county clerks access to election materials translated in Spanish, Tagalog, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Korean, Thai and Amharic. Additionally, Cegavske should encourage county clerks to provide the translated materials on their websites and to print them out when necessary.

Tagalog, the third-most spoken language in the state, should also be added as an option for the online voter registration system. The Legislature can help get this done in the 2023 legislative session. There’s money to do this through the Help America Vote Act, which provides funds that can be used for translation services and for conducting outreach programs for voters with limited English. 

However, counties do not have to wait for the state to act. Washoe County voluntarily provides bilingual ballots and voting information in Spanish. To ensure fair and equitable access to the ballot box for voters whose first language is not English, county and city clerks should use their discretionary power to translate voting materials that serve their communities.

Additionally, only Clark County provides voting information and ballots in Spanish and Tagalog, as required by provisions in the Voting Rights Act that are triggered when a “language minority” reaches a certain threshold in a jurisdiction. Chinese speakers in Clark County missed the threshold by only 434 residents. There’s no reason that Clark County can’t follow Washoe County’s lead and provide voter materials in Mandarin.

Nevada’s democracy is stronger when our officials commit to making the promise of America a reality by investing in holding elections in which all Americans can participate, regardless of their ability to read or speak English. 

Mary Janet Ramos serves as the All Voting is Local Nevada campaign manager. Prior to joining All Voting is Local, Ramos worked as a research analyst with the Culinary Workers Union Local 226. The highlights of her work include helping pass COVID-19 worker health and safety language to protect hospitality workers in the midst of the pandemic. For more information on the need for language accessibility in Nevada, be sure to check out Ballots for All: Improving Language Access for Nevada Voters.

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