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Pa. Latino groups scramble to correct wrong election info county sent in Spanish

Texting, calling and knocking on doors in Berks County, after instructions in Spanish set the deadline for returning ballots 16 days after the election.

Groups mobilizing Latino voters want election officials in Berks County, Pennsylvania, to provide lists of people who were sent instructions in Spanish with the wrong date to hand in mail-in ballots.

Diana Robinson, civic engagement director for Make the Road Pennsylvania, said the group has been scrambling to contact people who may have received the Spanish-language instructions that say the deadline to return ballots is Nov. 18 — more than two weeks after the Tuesday (Nov. 2) election, which is also the deadline for sending mail-in votes.

As of Monday, Robinson’s group had contacted 1,100 people who were determined to have received the incorrect information, she said.  The instructions accompanied 17,000 mail-in ballots.

“We have been texting and calling people to give them the right information. We’ve been knocking on doors in Berks County about this erroneous information,” Robinson said. 

Other groups also were scurrying to inform voters, also using social media and gatherings with members and the community and holding a news conference. The county sent a follow-up letter.

The error was discovered Oct. 20 by poll workers, according to The Reading Eagle. The county also sent out a letter on Oct. 28 to 800 poll workers that also had the election date wrong, Nov. 3 instead of Nov. 2., the newspaper reported.

The error is magnified by problems the groups encountered in 2020, including long lines at polls in heavy Latino areas, lack of translators at polls and on voter hotlines, and an apparent inability of poll workers to deal with Spanish-language surnames, Robinson said.

She said the ACLU of Pennsylvania has asked the county solicitor for a list of voters affected by the error. Also, the group has sent a letter to Berks County commissioners to make public its plan for contacting the voters. 

County officials have said the error was unintentional, explaining in a statement last week that the election date was not updated after they copied and pasted Spanish language instructions for a May 18 election.

Although the incorrect date went out with all 17,000 mail-in ballots, the county said of those, 2,800 were with a bilingual ballot sent to precincts federally designated as bilingual, the county said.

“The county felt it was important to send a letter recognizing the error and emphasizing the correct date to ALL 17,000 voters who received the incorrect instructions, regardless of their primary language of the type of ballot they received. That letter was sent out last week," county officials said.

The county said it was working with the Daniel Torres Hispanic Center, the Governor's Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs, the Berks County Latino Chamber of Commerce and radio stations to get out the correct election date.

Nonetheless, what happened is indicative of the regard the county has for community members who are not English proficient, Robinson said. The instructions in English, on the flip side of the instructions, had the correct date.

“Why was the English side correct and the Spanish not?” Robinson asked. “The Latino community feels like an afterthought.”

The Latino population in Pennsylvania grew to 1.05 million people, according to the U.S. Census. Berks County saw the second-highest growth rate in the state of Latinos or Hispanics, with the number rising to 99,550 over the past decade.

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