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IA Latino Group: Election Materials Shouldn't Be English-Only

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Thursday, August 5, 2021   

DES MOINES, Iowa -- When Iowans register to vote or cast their ballot, the forms are usually just in English.

A civil rights group argued the state needs to clarify whether counties can offer materials in other languages so that disenfranchised residents can take part in elections.

This week, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Iowa filed a court petition, asking the Secretary of State to make it clear what is allowed when translating election materials.

Nick Salazar, Iowa state director for LULAC, said the process is already confusing enough.

"And when you can't read the forms, or you can't speak the language, it's going to create a lot of issues," Salazar asserted.

He pointed out not having the forms in other languages such as Spanish means thousands of people who are eligible cannot access voter information.

The petition centers around a 2002 state law which defined English as Iowa's official language. LULAC said a subsequent court ruling further narrowed the scope in seeking translations.

Joe Henry, LULAC's political director in Iowa, adds that the state missed on opportunity, based on the court's opinion, to challenge the decision. Because there was no follow-up, he says it has become status-quo for the state not to offer forms in separate languages.

"Due to a continuing misinterpretation of a 2007 court decision regarding a law enacted in 2002 by the state legislature, that right has been denied," Henry said.

In response to the petition, the Secretary of State's office said it will follow the process outlined in the law, while adding it does outreach to the Spanish-speaking community when it comes to elections.

Salazar contended the barriers are especially problematic during the Iowa caucuses. He also cited an example from last year when a voter needed to have an issue resolved through their local county auditor's office.

"In order for us to address the issue, we have to get on a conference call with the county auditor, with the voter and a translator," Salazar recounted.

Currently, only two Iowa counties are allowed to use non-English forms because they are exempt under federal law. LULAC hopes the order ultimately allows the state's other 97 counties to do the same.

The Secretary of State said it has received the filing. A formal response is required within 60 days, at which point further court action can be taken.

Disclosure: The League of United Latin American Citizens - Council 307 contributes to our fund for reporting on Civic Engagement, Human Rights/Racial Justice, Immigrant Issues, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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