What to do on Election Day if English isn’t your first language

Politics
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — More than a quarter of U.S. counties have at least one in ten households where English is not the spoken language at home.

Election day is on Nov. 3 and ballots will be offered in multiple languages in several states.

For example, in California, voters can request a ballot in multiple languages: Arabic, Armenian, Hmong, Korean, Persian, Spanish, Syriac, Tagalog, and more.

But other states only have English on their ballots.

For example, the Northwest Arkansas Latinx community said the state doesn’t print Spanish ballots for them.

“If it is in your own language, it will be easier to understand,” said Yolanda Lorge, president of Grupo Latinoamericano, “once you become a citizen, you usually speak English. But at the same time, not everyone is fluent in even though they pass the test in English.”

Lorge said many U.S. citizens struggle with the English language, “in the case of the Spanish language, we have to think about Puerto Ricans, right. Because if there are newcomers here from the island, even though they are already American citizens, they don’t need to pass any test or anything like that, but still, they struggle with the language.”

“We always want to be helpful to people that would have a language barrier,” said Shane Schoeller, Greene County Clerk.

Schoeller said there is no mandatory language assistance for voters here in Greene county.

“We are not what is considered a section 203 state, which is a federal designation in terms of a language barrier for someone who does not speak the English language,” said Schoeller.

And Lorge said this could be problematic because “it’s important because you have to understand what you’re voting, not only for who but for what. In some cases, they may be voting against their wishes or against what they really need.”

Schoeller said there are interpreter services available if you’re deaf or hard of hearing, “but there’s nothing when I looked through our state statutes that require anything in terms of the ballot itself.”

So if you know you need assistance with language on the ballot, Schoeller suggests you reach out to the office as soon as possible.

“If someone contacts our office, we would frankly reach out to one of our state universities, where we know that we have a better opportunity to find someone that speaks that language and see what we can do to assist that person,” Schoeller said.

And Lorge hopes there could be more language assistance for smaller counties in the future, “this country is run by immigrants. More than any other country. There’s always going to be people either running away from something or coming in for new opportunities. The fact is, we’re always going to have immigrants who don’t speak English.”

For more information about voting on Nov. 3, you can visit: https://greenecountymo.gov/county_clerk/election/candb_issues.php

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