30 March 2023
For more than 1.3 million registered voters in Clark County, ballots are made available in English, Spanish and Tagalog, but a bill this legislative session could provide election materials for nearly 10,000 Chinese and Taiwanese county residents in their native language.
Under AB246, sponsored by Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas) and 20 other lawmakers, county election officials would be required to make voting materials available in the language of a given minority group if there are at least 5,000 “voting age citizens” in the county who are members of that minority group and are of “limited-English proficiency.”
“Every Nevadan has a fundamental right to participate in the electoral process,” Torres said during a hearing of the bill Tuesday. “However, this right is often restricted for limited-English proficient Nevadans due to language barriers that discourage them from participating in the process.”
The measure would expand on a section of the federal Voting Rights Act that requires states and counties to provide language assistance during elections for groups who are unable to speak or understand English well enough to participate in the electoral process, if the number of voting age citizens from that group is greater than 10,000 or 5 percent of the voting age population. Under that law, Clark County is required to provide materials in Spanish and Tagalog, and Nye County is required to provide materials in Shoshone.
Mary Wolfrom, a member of Make the Road Nevada (whose remarks were translated from Spanish to English by Robert Garcia, the group’s economic justice organizer), testified in support, arguing that language accessibility was needed to give Nevadans “the power to make informed decisions and exercise their constitutional right to vote.”
“We must take [into] account the diversity needs for our community to create a more inclusive and solid democracy,” Garcia said on behalf of Wolfrom.
Under an amendment presented by Torres on Tuesday, the threshold for non-English language ballot materials would be cut in half, requiring election materials be provided in Chinese in Clark County and in Spanish in Washoe County, which already voluntarily provides ballots in Spanish.
Clark County’s voting-age population of limited-English proficiency Chinese residents is 9,566, according to data from the 2015-2019 American Community Survey presented Tuesday, leaving the group just short of the federal 10,000 person threshold.
An original version of the bill set the threshold at 1,400 limited-English proficiency voters in a county, potentially giving ballot language access to other Asian voters in Clark County, including Korean and Vietnamese residents.
Eric Jeng, deputy director of One APIA Nevada, said the 5,000-person threshold was set after conversations with the secretary of state’s office and county election officials, putting the number at a level that is “operational for Nevadans that also achieved the equitable process that we want to bridge that barrier.”
But Torres said 1,400 people would “likely be the goal one day,” and she noted other provisions of the bill — including creation of a toll-free telephone number for election-related translation services — were meant to expand access.
Gabriel Di Chiara, chief deputy to Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar, testified in support of the bill, stating Aguilar believes the bill will go “a long way towards expanding our electorate.” The secretary of state’s office has not yet attached a fiscal note to the bill, but anticipates it could cost $8 million to implement.
Editor’s Note: This story appears in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2023 legislative session. Sign up for the newsletter here.
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