Emerging Latino community stirs need for bilingual poll workers

A pro-Latino voter plackard reads 'Our voice is our vote, we are the political force.' (Photo/Erin Rosa)

A pro-Latino voter plackard reads 'Our voice is our vote, we are the political force.' (Photo/Erin Rosa)

With a lengthy state ballot and expected lines at the polls, Denver officials say they are working to make sure that on Election Day every voting precinct in the city has at least one bilingual poll worker to assist those who may not speak English. There is a specific emphasis on Spanish speakers.

To help with the momentous task — which goes above and beyond current federal voting regulations pertaining to bilingual speakers — is the city’s Spanish Language Voting Advisory Committee, also called ACCESO, the Spanish word for “access.”

Federal regulations require Denver, with an estimated Latino population of 35 percent, to provide bilingual poll workers to at least 133 out of the 185 of voting precincts that will be used during the election, according to Alton Dillard, spokesman for the Denver Elections Division.

“There are precincts that we are actually required to cover, but we always try to go over and above,” said Dillard. This year especially — with record turnout already being reported in early voting and mail-in ballot tallies, and Latino populations surging in the state — it’s going to be important to have an adequate number of Spanish and bilingual speakers.

“It’s created a different dynamic,” Dillard said, noting that the city is only 40 individuals short of reaching its recruiting goal of one bilingual poll worker for all 185 precincts. The shortfall is expected to be resolved by Election Day because of daily recruiting efforts by city officials and ACCESO.

Paul Lopez, a Denver city councilman who sits on the ACCESO committee, says that providing Spanish-speaking poll workers could affect election results in Denver, with a high Latino population.

“We are having more people registered all across the board and that includes folks that are Spanish speaking,” Lopez says. “Anyone that can speak a second language is going to be very helpful and very critical to voter turnout.”

Ballots in the Mile High City are also required to be printed in English and Spanish. Federal regulations require this of cities whose population of Spanish speakers is more than 5 percent.

ACCESO was formed in 2002, shortly after the U.S. Department of Justice notified Denver that it would need to print bilingual ballots under federal law.

Dillard described the advisory committee as a resource to help recruit of poll workers from the Spanish-speaking community, with outreach focused on “a particular concentration of areas of town where there is a high Latino population.

Ads soliciting bilingual poll workers were placed in a number of Spanish-language newspapers and the board also set up a Web site in Spanish as a resource on election issues.

“It may or may not come up, but having someone there to connect with the bilingual voters is important,” said Isaac Medrano of Democracia U.S.A., a non-partisan Latino civic engagement organization that operates in a number of battleground states, including Colorado.

“Both sides of the aisle are working to get Latinos on to their side and make sure they come out and vote,” said Medrano. “To ask the questions that people get asked during an election, individuals, regardless of their race, may have a problem with the language.”

The poll worker spots in Denver are paid positions, and more information can be found at Denver Votes.

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About the Author

Erin Rosa

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature.

Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state.

Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters.

She can be reached at erosa@coloradoindependent.com.

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