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Two dozen Colorado counties will be required to provide multilingual ballots for the first time

Broomfield ballot
Posted at 5:21 PM, Sep 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-22 20:54:44-04

LITTLETON, Colo. — At the Arapahoe County elections division, things are starting to get busy before the November election.

State Blue Books are already popping up in the mailboxes of voters this week, and on Friday, the county will start sending ballots out to military and overseas voters. Ballots for the general public won’t be far behind.

This year, though, roughly 20 counties in Colorado will need to start providing multilingual ballots for voters after a law passed in 2021 takes effect for the first time in this election.

The law requires counties to provide multilingual ballots if 2.5% of county voters, or 2,000 voting-aged citizens, speak English “less than well” and speak a shared minority language at home.

“This is a bill that is designed to open up voting opportunities for people who speak other languages as their native or heritage language,” said Sen. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, one of the law’s prime sponsors.

Before, only a handful of counties like Denver and Adams were required under federal voting rights laws to provide the ballots in more than one language.

This law significantly expands those requirements and provides some resources for counties to be able to do so.

Along with providing the multilingual ballots, the new law also requires the state to provide the voter information guide, also known as the Blue Book, in both English and Spanish to voters.

The law also creates a hotline run through the Secretary of State’s Office to offer help and translation services to voters during business hours in any given election season. The interpreter will not be able to help the voter try to decipher what the ballot question would do or its potential implications, rather they would focus strictly on making sure the caller understands what is being asked.

“Ballot language is notoriously hard to understand. I, as a college graduate, even sometimes struggle with some of the legalese that are in the ballot,” Moreno said. “Turnout is going to increase as a result of this because finally people will have a ballot that they can actually interpret, that they can understand.”

As Colorado becomes more diverse, Moreno expects that even more counties will need to start offering these services in the future depending on the U.S. Census.

In Arapahoe County, the elections division has already been providing a sample ballot in Spanish voluntarily since 2020. That ballot was provided online or at voting centers so people could take it into the poll with them to fill out an English language ballot.

“It wasn't required by any federal or state law but we thought that was good outreach,” said Peg Perl, the deputy director of elections for the Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder’s office.

The elections division there has also been offering voter information in the county’s top-five spoken languages for a couple of years. Perl says while only a handful of voters were using the services previously, the county had gotten positive feedback from voters saying it helped them understand the process better and feel more confident in casting a ballot.

“Now that we have the new legislation in state law, we are just adding services to what we've been doing before,” Perl said.

Those changes include a Spanish-language live ballot instead of only the sample one. For the multilingual ballots, the Secretary of State’s Office will be responsible for providing translations for the statewide ballot questions while the counties and municipalities will be responsible for translating their own questions.

Perl hopes the additional ballot language options will help more voters feel comfortable casting a ballot.

“They'll feel a little more confident when they vote. They're probably, I would think, less likely to skip things on the ballot or skip whole elections altogether because they are not quite sure they understand what it is that they're voting on,” she said.

Moreno, meanwhile, hopes that the state law and resources will help take some of the burden off of counties and municipalities to provide these services. But he acknowledges even more could be done to help.

For now, when voters head to the polls in counties from Denver to Jefferson, Boulder to Conejos, there will be more options for ballots.