California Dramatically Increases the Number of Languages for Election Materials and Assistance

Big Changes

The California Secretary of State, the agency responsible for administering elections in California, released on Friday, December 29, 2017, a memo to elections officials throughout the state describing new requirements for election materials and assistance in languages other than English.

SOS CCROV #17148, Language Minority Determinations

California has previously provided election materials in nine languages other than English. With these latest determinations by the Secretary of State, an additional eight languages will now warrant special assistance under the law.

Including English and American Sign Language, California will now be providing election materials and assistance in a total of 19 different languages.

New Languages

On top of the existing provisions for Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Cambodian, Korean, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese, support will be added in 2018 for the following languages:

  • Arabic
  • Armenian
  • Bengali
  • Hmong
  • Ilocano
  • Persian
  • Punjabi
  • Syriac

What does it mean for people who speak those languages?

Every polling place in the state will be required to post at least two copies of the Voter Bill of Rights translated into the covered languages. In counties and voting precincts with enough voters (over 3%) who need the language assistance, the elections officials will be required to provide photo-copy versions of the ballot translated into the covered languages as a reference to help fill out the English ballot, and in those same counties and precincts, the elections officials are required to recruit pollworkers that speak those languages in order to assist people on Election Day.

Additional services and assistance, including voter registration and candidate filing materials, may also be forthcoming from the Secretary of State and local elections officials, along with guidance for counties participating in the Voters Choice Act.

Steps Forward

Voter Access will continue to advocate for expanded language access, focusing on improving American Sign Language materials and calling for inclusion of Slovak languages. We will be looking at efforts to comply with these new determinations, and will continue to work with county elections officials to help achieve our shared goals of voter participation.

Jon Ivy

Jon Ivy is an attorney and analyst in Sacramento, CA who writes regularly about California's government.

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