Salt Lake County to provide billingual ballots

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 19 2012 8:18 p.m. MDT

Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen shows off a voting machine with an option to vote in Spanish on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012, in Salt Lake City.

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County will print ballots in Spanish for the November election, a move Latino groups hope will stimulate greater access to the election for a growing segment of the county.

Latinos make up 18 percent of the county's population, but only a small percentage turn out to vote. During the most recent election, Spanish-speaking workers were in place to translate for voters, but few requested assistance, elections officials said.

In 2010, 6 percent of eligible voters — roughly 104,000 people — in Utah were Latinos, the 14th largest Latino eligible voter population share nationally, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

So far this year, only 50 voters have requested ballots in Spanish. But as word spreads among the Latino community, elections officials and community organizers hope for more participation.

"Many do not vote because of the formality of English," said Archie Archuleta, president of the Utah Coalition of La Raza, a Latino civil rights advocacy organization. "It could be a big hit if it is properly advertised."

Voters in Salt Lake County will have the option of automatically choosing Spanish in the electronic voting machines, according to Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen.

The county already has a list of residents who prefer to vote in Spanish with their mail-in-ballot. The English mail-in ballot will now include an option to request a Spanish ballot that would be shipped overnight, Swensen said. 

The county first rolled out voting information in Spanish during the primary election. It has hired bilingual poll workers to assist during the general election.

"It is a federal law and the Department of Justice definitely oversees and monitors what we are doing," Swensen said.

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon said printing voter information and ballots in Spanish "reflects the letter and spirit of the law."

"It also has the distinction of being the right thing to do," Corroon said.

San Juan County is the only other county in Utah required to have bilingual voter information. There, information also must be passed along in the Navajo language.

"We need to tell our people to take advantage of this," Archuleta said. "It's a beautiful opportunity."

E-mail: jreyes@desnews.com Twitter: @_JulianReyes_

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