Voting in Pitkin County an English-only affair
September 11, 2011
ASPEN – Pitkin County will not offer dual-language ballots – in English and Spanish – to voters for November’s mail-only election, but is preparing sample ballots that will offer the 14-question ballot in both languages.
The county is one of 16 in Colorado that has been identified, based on 2010 census data, as potentially meeting the threshold that would require dual-language ballots under the federal Voting Rights Act. But, a definitive answer from the U.S. Department of Justice has not been forthcoming.
Most recently, the county was told it would be late October or early November before it knows whether or not it meets the criteria that would require it to provide materials in Spanish to voters, according to Dwight Shellman III, county election manager.
“We just couldn’t wait any longer,” he said.
The county has ordered about 10,000 ballots, the printing of which will cost about $4,300. In addition, it ordered envelopes for mailing them out, and separate envelopes that voters can use to return their ballot to the Clerk and Recorder’s Office. All of the items would need to be in both languages if the county were to run a dual-language election.
Instead, the county is working on the finishing touches of a dual-language sample ballot that voters can pick up at the clerk’s office or view online. Shellman said his office is also willing to put one in the mail to anyone who requests one. Individuals who are more comfortable reading Spanish can use it as a guide as they fill out their official ballot, he said.
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“I think it’s a good service that we can provide,” Shellman said.
Shellman said he doubts that Pitkin County would have to provide dual-language voters under the federal criteria anyway (the census counted 716 county residents who identified themselves as Spanish-speakers), but said getting the ballot translated has been a worthy exercise.
“It’s helped me learn how to prepare dual-language ballots,” he said.
Ballots must be mailed to overseas county voters by Sept. 17. Shellman expects domestic ballots to go in the mail on Oct. 11. There will be no polling places for this fall’s election; ballots are due back by 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 1.
A link to the sample ballot, in English, is available at http://www.pitkinvotes.org. Last week, the website indicated a dual-language ballot is coming soon. There were also links to forms for voter registration and a mail-in ballot application posted in both English and Spanish, but both Spanish links, and one of the English links, weren’t functioning.
The ballot includes a Colorado Mountain College director election, plus races in the Aspen and Re-1 school districts. The Aspen School District also is proposing the elimination of term limits for school board members. There is one state proposition on the ballot and three questions posed to voters in the Redstone Water and Sanitation District. In addition, both the Re-1 district and Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District are posing tax questions.
Pitkin County is asking four questions, including a proposal to extend and increase the Healthy Community Fund property tax, two questions that propose amendments to the county charter and one referendum related to use of the property tax that supports the county’s FM/TV translator tax.