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Spanish language ballots not required in Georgia county, Latino activists disagree

Latino activists have been pushing for Spanish language ballots in Hall County, where 28% of all residents are Hispanic, according to Census data.
Image: Georgia Begins Hand Tally Of Presidential Race
People hand count 2020 Presidential election ballots during an audit at the Gwinnett County Voter Registration office in Lawrenceville, Ga., on Nov. 13, 2020.Elijah Nouvelage / Bloomberg via Getty Images

GAINESVILLE, Ga. — A northeast Georgia county says it’s exempt from providing Spanish language ballots for at least another five years.

The Times of Gainesville reports that Hall County officials say an evaluation shows the county doesn’t meet the requirement that more than 5% of its voting-age citizens are members of a language minority group that “do not speak or understand English adequately enough to participate in the electoral process.”

Latino activists have been pushing for Spanish language ballots in Hall County, where 28% of all residents are Hispanic, according to Census data.

DeKalb and Gwinnett counties are the only Georgia jurisdictions that provide ballots in languages other than English. Gwinnett County added Spanish language ballots after the federal government told the county it had to do so in 2017. DeKalb County voluntarily added Spanish and Korean ballots in 2020.

Hall County elections director Lori Wurtz told the Board of Elections and Registrations in December that the county would not be reevaluated on providing Spanish language ballots for five more years. Wurtz said she had anticipated Hall County qualifying for bilingual ballots after this evaluation.

“When we are tapped to do this, we’re ready,” she said.

Jurisdictions are evaluated using data from the American Community Survey every five years, said Gina Wright, executive director of the Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office.

“These tabulations are not publicly available so there is not a way for anyone to determine on their own what that would be or how close they may or may not have been to meeting this,” Wright wrote in an email.

Hall elections board chairman Tom Smiley said multilingual ballots can add a significant cost to elections. The county would be responsible for translating signage, advertisements, ballots and any other election materials, Smiley said.

“There’s a large budget that would accompany that, and so it’s good for us to know that we did not meet that standard for this time,” he said.

In 2017, the Hall County board voted to require bilingual ballots for county and state elections in a controversial 2-1 vote while two seats were unfilled. A full five-member board overturned the decision in 2018.

Jerry Gonzalez of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials said that his organization continues to believe the county should add Spanish ballots even if not required.

“Hall County board of elections should take the proactive steps necessary to ensure Latino voters can freely exercise their right to vote by moving Spanish language access forward voluntarily,” Gonzalez wrote in an email.

People who need help translating ballots can still bring a translator with them to polling stations, as guaranteed by federal law, Gonzalez wrote.

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