By Eugenio Torrens
Within the last decade, Pasco County has noticed its Hispanic population surge.
Currently, 11 percent — or one in every nine people — of the county is Hispanic. Section 203 of the federal Voting Rights Act stipulates that if 5 percent of the voting age population is of a certain ethnicity, then voting material must be published in the native language of that demographic.
The U.S. Department of Justice exempted Pasco from that requirement since the county’s Hispanic population met or exceeded the minimum literacy rate. Thus, voting materials only have to be published in English.
Pasco Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley said this shouldn’t change anything drastically, and that it will save the county money.
“The only real concern that we had would be from a financial standpoint,” Corley said. “We’ve had to cut our budget 28 percent in the last four years, and it’s been quite a challenge as you might imagine.
“By implementing this, this would have in essence, would have been an unfunded mandate from the federal government to the tune of $75,000 in additional outlay, plus tens of thousands of dollars each election,” Corley said. “It’s easier on the wallets of the taxpayers.”
“We have an obligation, and a legal one at that, to assist all voters,” Corley added. “We have a long tradition of accommodating all voters, and that won’t change.”
If Pasco did have to publish Spanish voting materials, the only obvious change would have been in amendments, where the Spanish text would have been underneath the English text.
“The concern would have been that it would have caused our ballot, at an absolute minimum, to go to two pages and that’s where really the cost comes into play,” Corley said.
With two-plus page ballots, Corley said reconciling all the material that is sent out on absentee ballots could be problematic — people may send only the part of the ballot that corresponds to them, i.e. the English part of the ballot or Spanish part of the ballot.
The U.S. Department of Justice ruling affects only voting materials published at the county level.
“However, things that affect statewide, for example (amendments), albeit they will not be bilingual on the ballot, but the division of elections at the state level will be required to provide to the counties, i.e. my office, translated materials for things like voter application, or those proposed amendments, which we will have at a polling place,” Corley said.
Hillsborough County was not ruled exempt from Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, which means it will continue to publish voting materials bilingually.
Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Earl Lennard said there are Spanish-speaking poll workers at voting sites where there is a larger percentage of Hispanic voters. He said ballots for the 2010 primary, published in English and Spanish, cost 23 cents apiece.
The county uses Spanish speakers to write the Spanish interpretation of English ballots.
“Sometimes that can get pretty tricky because various dialects are different,” Lennard said. But he added, “It’s always a concern, but thankfully it has not been an issue.”
One other big difference between the two counties is that Hillsborough is a preclearance county, meaning Hillsborough has to take certain steps Pasco doesn’t.
Hillsborough is required to notify the Department of Justice when a polling site may no longer be available in order to switch to a new site. But before Hillsborough can switch to that new site, the county has to be cleared by the Department of Justice.
For both counties, voting procedures should stay almost unnoticeably different.
“It’s one word: education,” Corley said. “What you have is, you have an increase in population — those folks are educated individuals, which is obviously always a good thing.”
For more information on voting in Pasco, visit pascovotes.com. For more information on voting in Hillsborough, visit www.votehillsborough.org.