Providing language access to election materials helps to ensure more equitable elections in the U.S. If a person has a hard time understanding a ballot, that person will be less likely to vote. Unfortunately, this leaves a portion of the limited English proficiency (LEP) population out of the voting process – and being able to vote is a right for every person in our country.
However, election materials can be very confusing, even for those whose native language is English. The content and questions are often written in a roundabout and lengthy way, which makes it difficult to understand. In addition, the verbiage is unique to the election process, using terms that aren’t used in everyday communication. Now imagine translating that confusing content – it’s a challenge, to say the least.
Although it’s a challenge, it’s definitely an achievable goal. As a language service provider (LSP), we’ve been working with local and state governments on multilingual election materials for more than 20 years. We want to help others be as prepared as possible to produce the best translations. Based on our experience, here are 10 tips (plus a bonus tip!) to help you plan for translations of election materials.
#1 Learn About Local Language Requirements
Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act Amendments of 2006 outlines the U.S. Census Bureau’s Director’s factors in determining language access. Section 203 was updated on December 8, 2021.
#2 Research the Growing Language Communities in Your County
Check to see if there are any new language requirements from your Secretary of State per the latest census data. For example, the state of Washington recently released that there’s a new requirement for King County to provide voting information in Spanish based on the new Section 203 language determinations.
Look at the census results for your area and review growing areas to anticipate new threshold languages (this guide can help you with your threshold languages). To let the community know about the translated content, create in-language pieces for local news, TV or radio outlets. You can also publish in-language in local community newsletters or magazines and find community organizations to partner with to spread the outreach and information dissemination.
#3 Leverage Available Translated Resources
The Glossary of Election Terminology, produced by the U.S. Elections Assistance Committee, contains around 1300 terms and phrases used in the administration of elections. The glossary is translated into 20 languages. You can use these terms and translations as a starting point, but be aware of differences or additions between your glossaries and local communities.
#4 Create an “Election Translation Calendar”
Create a calendar with dates and deadlines:
- Deadlines for when each of your documents (include candidate statements, ballots, voter information guides, vital documents, etc.) need to be translated.
- Dates of things you already know.
- When you can expect more information.
- Dates based on previous election years.
- Dates provided by the Secretary of State.
- Milestones for your own planning such as when to connect with local community organizations on outreach.
Although dates may change, you’ll at least have something that you and your LSP can work from.
#5 Make a List of Team Members
Make a clear list of team members and their responsibilities, and share it with the team and your LSP team. Determine if there will be a single primary contact for working with your LSP or if you need further integration with team members. Include who will be making decisions and who just needs to be copied on translation-related communications.
#6 Request a Full Scope of Services from Your LSP
In addition to your written translation needs, consider additional services that you may need, such as interpreting, ADA and WCAG compliance for your website, etc. Have a brief meeting with your LSP to strategize about these needs.
#7 Consider Formatting Work
Most content will need some formatting, called desktop publishing (DTP). Since languages vary in length, the translated content will most likely need some DTP work to make it look correct. For example, tables may need to be expanded or the number of blank pages may need to be altered so the printed version looks as it should. If you have a project that requires heavier DTP work, include this time on your translation calendar.
#8 Design Appropriate Internal Review Processes
If you have internal reviewers, train and prepare them staff on what they will be looking for and how to request edits. The ASTM STD. F 2575-14 Standard Guide for Quality Assurance in Translation is mainly used in the U.S. and will give you a good starting point to discuss the quality assurance process with your LSP.
#9 Create or Update Glossaries and Style Guides
Using translation tools will improve the quality of the translation. A glossary contains important terms with their preferred translations, plus acronyms, abbreviations, organization names, and proper nouns. A style guide lets translators get visibility to your county’s linguistic and stylistic preferences, such as the audience and proper tone. These important linguistic resources increase the overall quality and consistency of your documents, and save you time and money in the long run.
#10 Review Vital Documents
If you plan to revise your vital documents (including registration documents or other standard forms) before the next election, update them as early as possible. Also, make sure each one has translations ready. You may need to update some to incorporate new or changed terminology, or create translations for new documents.
Bonus Tip: Sign Up for Updates
Sign up for e-updates from your local state Secretary of State for changes in regulations, updates, free resources, and deadline reminders. Here’s a link to the California Secretary of State. Signing up will help you stay on top of changing requirements.
Every voice needs to be heard. While translating election materials may be a challenge, following these tips will enable you to be as successful as possible.
Given our extensive experience in government and election translations, we can help you save time and money while helping you connect with voters in any language. Let us make the translation aspect of your election season swift, economical, accurate, and completely stress-free. We can offer suggestions, guidance, and information for putting together a comprehensive, cost-effective translation program to serve your election needs. Contact us at [email protected] or (530) 750-2040.