Karla Gonzales García
The stakes of decisions in the political process are higher than ever, especially for the Latinx community. The system is supposed to be there to meet people’s needs and to be a representative democracy. With the complications of a global pandemic and a great deal of uncertainty about what we will be facing when folks would usually head to their local polling places, it is critical that decision-makers do all they can to address barriers and safety concerns.
For the estimated 1 in 3 Latinx voters for whom English may not be their first or primary language, a lack of appropriate language support and multilingual ballots can take away the ability to freely participate in the electoral process.
It is estimated that every 30 seconds, a Latinx person turns 18 and becomes eligible to vote. This is a large block of voters who deserve to have a voice in the process and yet in a recent survey, 1 in 6 Latinx respondents reported that the lack of Spanish-language assistance or materials posed a barrier to voting. We have the chance to do something about it.
The Colorado Senate can pass House Bill 1081, which requires multilingual ballots and translation services to be provided. There were questions around funding for this important legislation, but Colorado recently received a $6,691,472 grant from the federal CARES Act to enable our state to prepare and respond to the coronavirus for the 2020 federal election cycle.
Many states are looking at ways to expand and implement voter registration, voter education, vote by mail, and early voting in order to ensure the ability to vote safely. These are important steps, but with many people voting from home or without the support of a friend or family member to help them understand the ballot, there is an even more urgent need for multilingual ballots and translation services to ensure people are able to vote independently.
The funding is there. We need to make sure that when the General Assembly returns on May 26th that the Senate takes action to allocate grant money specifically to providing multilingual ballots and other translated election materials. They need to schedule a hearing for HB-1081 and approve use of the federal matching funds.
To ignore the language needs of our communities is to ignore the right to participate in the system plain and simple. Offering support for language access creates opportunity to make sure that in every district the voices of the people are heard. It means ensuring that the people elected truly represent the will of the people. Basic steps towards language justice is a simple, but important move forward that we can – and should take this year.
Karla Gonzales García, Policy Director of Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights.
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