WENATCHEE — The region’s growing number of voting-age Hispanics may soon require that ballots and elections materials in Chelan, Douglas, Grant and Okanogan counties include Spanish along with English.
The Secretary of State’s office Thursday announced that “there is a good chance” that nine more counties, including North Central Washington’s, could be subject to a “bilingual requirement” triggered by demographics.
The Voting Rights Act of 1975 requires that voting jurisdictions must go bilingual if their populations include at least 10,000 people — or over 5 percent of the population — who are voting-age citizens and members of a single-language minority group with limited ability to speak English.
Elections officials will likely know if the requirement applies to their counties in August or September, when the latest census data is released about county demographics, including languages spoken.
That could mean bilingual ballots as soon as the November elections.
Census data released in February shows that growth of NCW’s Hispanic population has far outpaced Hispanic population growth state wide.
Hispanics of all ages now make up 38 percent of Grant County residents, 26 percent in Chelan County, 29 percent in Douglas County and 18 percent in Okanogan County.
The bilingual requirement would apply to registration or voting notices, forms, instructions, assistance, ballots and most other elections-related documents.
Most elections officials around NCW said this morning that their counties would likely add Spanish to their documents, rather than the more costly option of offering separate, Spanish-only documents.
“Everything would go bilingual,” said Marty Whitehall, elections supervisor at Douglas County, if the census numbers trigger the requirement. “I believe we will have to do it.”
Chelan County Auditor Skip Moore said the switch would require a coordinated effort among all counties to ensure that all are using the same terminology in Spanish.
Neither Moore nor Whitehall said that the requirement would cause them to replace existing, monolingual staffers with bilingual staffers.
Whitehall said Douglas County could possibly hire a temporary bilingual worker during elections season.
Moore said his office would encourage bilingual people to apply for jobs that open through attrition.
Okanogan County Auditor Laurie Thomas, worries about the cost.
“It’s been on our radar now for a couple of years,” Thomas said. “We’ve talked about it and formulated ‘what ifs,’ but the requirement is going to be so expensive that we’re not going to go there until we’re told we have to do it. It’s going to be a hardship on this county.”
Sue Ramaker, elections administrator for Grant County said the office may have to add a bilingual staffer. They’re not taking action until they hear from the state.
“We’re kind of on hold right now,” she said.
When the word comes, ballots already printed for an upcoming election would not have to be reprinted, Whitehall said, but materials for future elections would have to include Spanish.
Both Moore and Whitehall said that if required to go bilingual they’d also launch a community outreach effort to ensure that Spanish-speaking voters in their counties knew about the bilingual voting information.
Currently, King County provides elections information in Chinese; Adams, Franklin and Yakima counties have materials in Spanish.
Other counties that appear likely to soon have the language requirement are Benton, Pierce, Skagit, Snohomish and Walla Walla.
Christine Pratt: 665-1173