Advocates Seek Bilingual Ballots In Gwinnett, Hall Counties

Nov 5, 2015

Are Georgia's Spanish-speaking voters getting left out because of English-only ballots? 

Advocates for Latino voting rights say yes and that needs to change. 

It has to change before next year's presidential election, according to the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.

The organization's executive director, Jerry Gonzalez, has written to Gwinnett and Hall counties, both with large Spanish-speaking communities, asking that bilingual voting materials be provided. 

"We have had to provide, at our own expense, language access to voters. However, it is the county's responsibility to do that," Gonzalez said.

His organization is pointing to a provision in the Voting Rights Act that guarantees bilingual voting materials for Puerto Ricans. 

There are more than 13,000 Puerto Ricans in Gwinnett County, according to census numbers from American Factfinder in 2013. 

Alice O'Lenick, who chairs the Board of Voter Registration and Elections there, said for the past two years, her office has been working with minority organizations and churches to smooth voter access for non-English speakers.

"We will send them the ballot, and they can translate it into their native language,"  O'Lenick said.

She said federal and state regulations require additional languages on voting materials only when a non-English speaking population passes a certain threshold according to the U.S. Census. O'Lenick said she was unaware of the Puerto Rican voter provision.

"It's nice to have letters come into the board of something we weren't thinking of or something that we have not made decisions on before," O'Lenick said.

She said Gwinnett's lawyers will look into any potential Voting Rights Act issues.