2024 is shaping up to be a big year in politics — with the Republican Party’s primary elections already under way, there are a lot of elections to watch out for.
Voting in these elections is an important aspect of civic life here in the United States, but many residents with limited English proficiency (LEP) may struggle to fully participate in these elections, despite actively contributing to our society. While the Voting Rights Act ensures that election materials will be translated into high-demand languages across various districts, it’s important to take a look at how language access can shape our electoral process.
“Whenever any State or political subdivision [covered by the section] provides registration or voting notices, forms, instructions, assistance, or other materials or information relating to the electoral process, including ballots, it shall provide them in the language of the applicable minority group as well as in the English language,” reads Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, which was amended in 1975 to improve language access in the electoral process.
We’re at the beginning of a big election year with a lot on the line — here at Avantpage, we partner with election organizations across the US and in some of the most diverse states like California, Texas, Florida, and New York to promote language access in the electoral process and gain unique insights into the demand for language access in elections.
And there are some creative ways that election offices can engage residents with LEP — take the Yolo County Elections Office’s “Train the Trainer” program as an example. The program trained leaders of religious and community-based organizations that work closely with the county’s non-English speakers to help community members register to vote.
As we look toward the upcoming primary elections and the big event in November, here are some important language access considerations that electoral officials should be aware of.
The Importance of Collaboration
Translating ballots and voter information guides into the relevant languages is a collaborative process — states and other political subdivisions need to work closely with trained language professionals to ensure high quality translations.
Election offices should work closely with a trusted language service provider to review all of the materials that need translating and determine a course of action for making those materials accessible in the languages you need. By working with a language service provider that specializes in electoral materials, you can mitigate the risk of mistranslating something and improve the quality of these materials overall.
You also don’t have to start from scratch either — the Election Assistance Commission has compiled a list of language access resources for elections, including best practices for different locales across the nation. Many relevant, evergreen materials such as the National Mail Voter Registration Form have already been translated into multiple languages, so you can leverage resources that are already available.
Which Materials to Translate
There’s a lot that needs to be translated for every election. Once you’ve identified the already-translated materials available to you, it’s time to figure out what you do need to translate.
At Avantpage, we’ve done thousands of translation projects for our election clients. Over the years we have found some materials that are most commonly translated across the board. Here are some common materials that will likely need to be translated:
- Candidate statements
- Voter Information Guide
- Voting instructions
- Sample ballots
- Press releases
- Election administration lan
- Fact sheets
- Social media
- Public notices
- Outreach materials
Interpretation is also an important consideration to make as well — you’ll want to have on-site interpreters and also work with an agency that offers phone or video interpretation as a back-up.
You can also hire bilingual poll workers to strengthen community trust in the election and place them at polling stations that are likely to have a higher proportion of LEP speakers of a specific language.
Translation Volume and Demand
When working with a language service provider, it’s also important to consider the volume of translated materials you need. Take a look at historical data , anticipated deadlines, and future election dates to see which months have had especially high demand in your area so that you can prepare ahead of time. You’ll also want to figure out which materials are time-sensitive and which aren’t. Request translations well ahead of time wherever possible, and try to batch together documents and languages so you can avoid having to pay minimum fees.
Which Languages to Translate into
According to Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, states and other political subdivision (i.e., cities, counties, etc.) must provide translated voting materials in regions where “more than 10,000 or over 5 percent of the total voting age citizens in a single political subdivision (usually a county, but a township or municipality in some states) who are members of a single language minority group, have depressed literacy rates, and do not speak English very well.”
In 2021, a total of 331 jurisdictions met those criteria and had to provide language assistance to voters with LEP. That number appears to be on the rise too — in 2016, only 263 jurisdictions had to do so.
These numbers are updated every five years using data from the American Community Survey, so while things may not change much for the 2024 elections, it’s likely that there will be even more demand in the 2028 elections, given the rising population of individuals with LEP in this country. Now is as good a time as any to begin looking into languages other than English that are spoken into your community to prepare for future changes.
And even if your jurisdiction isn’t required under the Voting Rights Act to provide these materials, it doesn’t mean you can’t — by improving language access in your local elections, you can boost voter turnout and civic engagement within communities that have historically been less likely to participate in elections.
As we head into what’s bound to be a busy year for election offices across the country, it’s important to keep in mind that improving language access can increase voter turnout by making the electoral process more accessible to individuals from all backgrounds.
Here are some things to consider when thinking about language access in this year’s elections:
- Electoral language access is a collaborative process between language service providers, election offices, and local community members.
- Many materials have already been translated for you — look to the Election Assistance Commission and your Secretary of State’s office to find them.
- Work with a language service provider to translate materials like candidate statements, press releases, sample ballots, etc., as well as interpretation on the day of the election.
- Track the amount of materials you need translated so that in the future you can be prepared for months that are likely to have especially high demand.
- Pay attention to American Community Survey data to identify languages that are in high demand in your area, so that you can adequately serve your community.
At Avantpage, we’re proud to work closely with election offices across the nation. If you need translation or interpretation for any upcoming elections, contact us today at (530) 750-2040 or [email protected].