Latino voters leave Weld County polls without voting, say election advocates

(Photo/Colorado Luis)

(Photo/Colorado Luis)

Reports are streaming out of Weld County that Latino voters are leaving polling places without voting because voter information, including ballots, had not been translated into Spanish and because of a lack of translators available at polling places.

Lindsey Hodel, organizing director with the Colorado Progressive Coalition, said her group has been speaking with Weld County clerk Steve Moreno’s office for weeks over concerns they had that many Spanish-speaking voters would not be able to vote unless ballots were printed in Spanish.

Their concerns have been realized, Hodel said.

“Some people are bringing their children in to help translate the ballot, but others are showing up by themselves,” Hodel said. “And, with less than half of the vote centers having bilingual translators on hand, there are only a couple of options for people. They can wait for a translator to be sent out from the county office, which our studies show can take two hours, you can vote on the English ballot that you don’t understand or you can leave and come back later. Unfortunately, a number of people are choosing to leave.”

The federal government only requires clerks to print bilingual ballots if more than 5 percent of the total population speaks a given language. During the last census report in 2000, less than 5 percent of Weld County spoke Spanish, but numbers have grown considerably since then.

In fact, Moreno said he believes Weld County today is probably above the 5 percent threshold of Spanish-speaking residents but he chose to use translators, which is within his legal right as a clerk, and not to print dual-language ballots out of an issue of fairness.

“First of all, I am a Latino and I am not out to disenfranchise anyone here,” Moreno said in an interview with The Colorado Independent Tuesday. “Second, we are within the law. If we put Spanish-speaking ballots out there that would be unfair because we have a large number of German voters here in Weld and we have a large number of Samoan voters here. We can’t open the box to one group but not another. There would be an outcry.”

Moreno said he has staffed Spanish-speaking translators at eight of the 34 polling locations in Weld County — each targeted at areas with a high Spanish-speaking population — and said he has a number of translators in his office who he is ready to dispense at the first sign of need.

“We have not got any reports here from voters or from (voter’s rights) groups,” said Moreno, who since coming to office in Weld County has created Spanish-speaking translator positions in each of his county offices and the DMV. “If we had reports we would be glad to address them, but we haven’t received any reports.”

But Hodel said Moreno has not made enough translators available to handle the large influx of Spanish-speaking voters in Weld County who are only given their lunch break to vote and who often come to the polls at the same time.

“Steve Moreno made a judgment call, and it was wrong,” Hodel said. “We think the result will be many people who don’t get to vote today.”

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