The State Department is planning the creation of a “language access workgroup consisting of department staff and county election officials” in effort to protect the rights of Spanish-speaking voters with limited English-language skills.
This initiative involving the Pennsylvania Department of State’s collaboration with local governments is prompted by the approaching May primary. Its main objective is to ensure that they fulfill Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, which specifically protects marginalized language groups.
According to WHYY, there are over 131,189 Spanish-speaking voters in Pennsylvania with limited English-language proficiency.
Around 59,000 of those potential voters are not guaranteed translated materials or interpreters during elections. That’s because many individual jurisdictions, in Pennsylvania’s case, counties do not meet the thresholds set in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
However, the state is acknowledging it could do more for Spanish-speaking voters and is inviting counties to join in its efforts.
The DOS said its first meeting would happen sometime this month but was unable to provide an exact date. But it would not be the first discussion of its kind held among affected counties, the state and civic groups.
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The Voting Rights Act states jurisdictions must provide voting materials in languages other than English if there are more than 10,000 voting-aged residents who speak a minority language. Also if that language minority makes up more than five percent of all voting age citizens
More specifically, it stipulates that the minority language speakers should not be able to speak English “very well,” which the census actually tracks in its American Community Survey every five years.
Spanish-speaking voters served
Berks, Lehigh and Philadelphia are the only three counties required to provide all election-related materials in Spanish, as well as provide interpreters at the polls and have them on call.
Other counties may find themselves required by new U.S. Census American Community Survey data to better serve non-English speaking voters better and on short notice.