Feds order Pinellas to print all ballots in English and Spanish
Bilingual ballots will soon be routine in elections in Pinellas County, which has been ordered by the U.S. Department of Justice to publish all voting materials in both English and Spanish for the first time.
That's because updated census data shows that for the first time, Pinellas is home to at least 5 percent of citizens of voting age "who are unable to speak or understand English adequately enough to participate in the electoral process," according to a letter to the county from the feds.
The letter from the voting section of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, dated Dec. 15, 2016, directed the county to create a bilingual voter information system 10 days earlier, by Dec. 5, when it was published in the federal register.
Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark said she quickly held a meeting with her cross-bay colleague, Craig Latimer, the supervisor in Hillsborough, where bilingual voting materials have been common for decades.
Clark has to move fast, as 10 Pinellas cities have municipal elections on March 14, and overseas and military ballots must be mailed in the next couple of weeks. St. Petersburg has a special election scheduled for May 2. Clark has ordered new bilingual signs to be posted at polling stations and must assign Spanish-speaking poll workers to specific precincts where at least 5 percent of the registered voters do not speak English as their primary language. The directive also requires Pinellas to train all poll workers about the rights of minority language voters.
"We're right on schedule," Clark said. "It is a clear federal mandate and we will be in full compliance." The bilingual requirement was posted on her website Wednesday, and Clark told the County Commission in an email that she's not yet certain how much compliance will cost.
The other counties where bilingual ballots and voting materials and language assistance are required in Spanish are Broward, DeSoto, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, Lee, Miami-Dade, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Polk and Seminole. Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange and Palm Beach also publish all voting materials in Creole.