English-only ballots for Huron County Board of Elections

WILLARD At first glance, the English-only ballots in Willard appear to be at odds with the city's la
Cory Frolik
May 24, 2010



At first glance, the English-only ballots in Willard appear to be at odds with the city's large cluster of Hispanic voters. But a closer look shows special ballots may not be necessary -- at least for now.

In the most recent U.S. Census Bureau survey eight years ago, about 12 percent of the city's population identified themselves as Hispanic or Latino.

Willard city manager Brian Humphress said the ratio has since increased to about 14 percent.

The federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 states if more than 5 percent of a political subdivision's citizenry is of legal voting age and belongs to a "single language minority and are limited-English proficient," then bilingual ballots are required.

Like all other election offices in Ohio, the Huron County Board of Elections does not provide Spanish-language ballots to any of its precincts.

That could change within two years when the U.S. Census performs its 2010 count. The law states the census director determines which areas meet the 5 percent threshold.

Pat Saunders, a former Huron County Board of Elections member, said he saw this change coming years ago.

"I talked about it a long time ago when I was on the Board of Elections," Saunders said. "I brought it up how I thought many of those precincts were getting near that 5 percent, and that we should be looking at putting the ballot in Spanish and English in those locations."

Willard's Hispanic population grew steadily during Saunders' time as a board member from 1992 to 2003. He also said Norwalk's Hispanic population has increased in recent years, too, and may now surpass the 5 percent mark.

The 2000 census estimated that about 4 percent of Norwalk's population was Hispanic.

But the mere presence of an Hispanic population does not necessitate bilingual ballots. The population must also have a limited grasp of English, and they must be U.S. citizens.

There are six precincts in Willard, two of which Humphress said had significant Hispanic populations.

Even so, Sharon Locke, director of the Huron County Board of Elections, said until there is a new census, it remains unclear whether Willard meets the minimum threshold.

"For now, we are not required to print bilingual ballots because the director of the census has not told us that any of our subdivisions fall into that (category)," Locke said.

One major consideration is the number of actual Hispanic citizens, she said. A portion of the Hispanic population may be transient migrant workers who do not have permanent green cards.

"It's easy to look at an area and say, 'Yeah, they've got a lot of Hispanics,' but how many are ... citizens?" Locke said. "A lot of them who are even here year-round are here on work visas."

Another question is whether the Hispanic citizens of a particular area know English, said Kevin Kidder, spokesman for the Ohio Secretary of State's office. If they know English, bilingual ballots are redundant.

Kidder said the census director has not contacted Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner regarding any board of elections in need of bilingual ballots.

"To our knowledge, there is no subdivision in the state of Ohio subject to that provision (of the Voting Rights Act)," Kidder said.