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County votes down Spanish-language ballots

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ELKO – Elko County Commissioners voted to put off implementing Spanish-language ballots until it becomes federally mandated.

Ultimately, it came down to budgetary concerns for some of the commissioners and jurisdiction rights for others.

The question of whether to have the ballots and voting materials ready in time for the 2018 general election was presented by Debbie Heaton-Lamp, co-secretary of the Elko County Democratic Central Committee.

Heaton-Lamp explained that about 24.8 percent of Elko County was estimated to be of Hispanic or Latino origin, citing numbers from the U.S. Census Quick Facts website from July 1, 2016. She said those numbers would require the county to provided Spanish-language ballots and materials.

She said she learned of the issue while trying to register voters in Elko County, and stressed that it “was not a partisan issue,” noting her involvement with the Democratic party.

All five of the County Commissioners are registered Republicans.

Heaton-Lamp said that if the county approved the item, it would make “the 2018 election a historic election with all citizens adding their vote.”

“We are a can-do county,” Heaton-Lamp said. “I think when it’s something important, we figure out a way to do it.”

Eloisa Mendoza, the interpreter for Elko County courts, told the commissioners that by not adding Spanish-language ballots the county would be missing out on voters who are citizens and registered to vote, but are afraid to cast a ballot for fear they will cast the wrong vote.

Mendoza also explained that many people come to her office and ask for help in translating the wording of ballot questions, which sometimes includes complicated sentence structure and wording.

“Quite a few people say to me, ‘I have this right to vote and I want to vote, but I don’t know what it’s saying,’” Mendoza said.

Lee Hoffman, chairman of the Elko County Republican Party, said incentives should be provided for immigrants “to become proficient in English,” and told the Commissioners that he believed the item was something “they did not have direct influence over.”

“I think this falls to Secretary of State and the County Clerk, but not the board to make a change,” Hoffman said.

Elko County Chief Deputy Clerk Kris Jakeman said she contacted Deputy Secretary of State for Elections Wayne Thorley, who referred her to the voting rights section of the U.S. Code that stated “more than five percent of the citizens of voting age … members of a single minority and are limited-English proficient” was the requirement for including Spanish on the ballots.

Commissioner Rex Steninger suggested keeping the issue open for more discussion, but said it really was not a decision the county could make. He was in favor of adding a translation of the ballot questions on the county’s website.

Commission Chairman Delmo Andreozzi was one of the commissioners who showed apprehension at the $52,000 price tag required to prepare ballots, sample ballots, signage and certified translators, but also said it was up to the County Clerk’s office to make that decision.

“I struggle with funding it because we haven’t given our own employees a raise in the last few years,” Andreozzi said.

Jon Karr agreed that money was the issue.

“We do not have the money, whether we like it or not. We don’t have it,” Karr said.

County Manager Rob Stokes recommended the county and the clerk’s office “not to approve the measure due to it not being mandated and due to the financial situation the county is in.”

Commissioner Cliff Eklund said he received phone calls and one text message from “a Spanish person” who was negative toward the issue.

“I haven’t had any phone calls or communications from anyone in the affirmative about this,” Eklund said.

Commissioners were unanimous in rejecting the request.

Heaton-Lamp said after the meeting that she brought the issue to the attention of the commission in order to include a segment of Elko County.

“It is an issue of providing all U.S. citizens living in Elko County the ability to fully participate in our American democracy,” Heaton-Lamp said, adding a Spanish-language translation of the ballot questions, courtesy of Clark County, would be “a step in the right direction. ”

She then said she believes it may take longer to get everything up to speed for the community’s Hispanic voters.

“It looks like it will be a very long time before the Spanish-language speakers will have Spanish-language ballots and voting materials,” she told the Elko Daily Free Press.

“Quite a few people say to me, ‘I have this right to vote and I want to vote, but I don’t know what it’s saying.’” — Eloisa Mendoza, court interpreter

“Quite a few people say to me, 'I have this right to vote and I want to vote, but I don’t know what it’s saying.'"

-- Eloisa Mendoza, court interpreter

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