EVERETT — In time for the 2024 presidential election, Spanish language voters’ pamphlets will likely be produced for voters in Snohomish County.
In the $1.66 billion county budget passed last week, the County Council allocated $30,000 to the auditor’s office to create Spanish voters’ pamphlets for the primary and general elections.
Council member Nate Nehring introduced the amendment funding the new initiative.
The county isn’t required by law to provide the ballots, but will do so anyway. Nehring said he was made aware of the issue by an article in The Daily Herald.
“Even if we’re not required to do it, it still seems like a good move to make,” Nehring said in an interview earlier this month.
County Auditor Garth Fell appreciated Nehring’s intent, but said more money will likely be needed to cover the cost of Spanish ballots, translation, outreach and everything else that goes into making election materials.
“The $30,000 — that’s the actual cost for sending it to a translation service, but it doesn’t really account for a lot of the additional costs to create a program that is effective,” Fell said.
The money is enough for translating voters’ pamphlets, but not ballots.
Fell said the office would need more cash to fund outreach and a new bilingual staffer who can make sure outsourced translations are accurate.
“We can fund just the translation, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to reach the people that it needs to reach,” Fell said.
He said was “just disappointed” that the council didn’t seek his office’s input on the amendment. Going forward, Fell intends to have conversations with council members to clarify what the auditor’s office needs to sustain Spanish election materials.
Under the Federal Voting Rights Act, counties must require voting materials in an alternate language after meeting two requirements. The population must have more than 10,000 registered voters with limited English proficiency, or they must make up more than 5% of the total voting-age population. Out of the people who have limited English proficiency, more than 1.31% must be considered illiterate in English.
Snohomish County has over 4,000 Spanish speakers with limited English proficiency, or around 0.7% of the voting-age population. Of those, 7.6% are considered illiterate.
In Washington, four counties — King, Yakima, Adams and Franklin — are required to provide Spanish language election materials. Pierce is the only county to voluntarily provide such materials.
Alvaro Guillen, the executive director of Connect Casino Road and an advocate for language accessibility in government, celebrated the new provision in the county budget.
“It is a great step towards a more equitable voting process in our county and I hope that it inspires other counties to follow suit,” he said.
The next general election in the county will have the presidential race on the ballot, bringing a greater turnout.
“I view it as critical, especially with it being a presidential election, that we have as many people that have access to voting as possible,” Nehring said.
Ideally, he said, the state would pass a law including more money for this initiative.
“If the state does not do that,” he said, “I would be supportive at the county level of continuing this funding in future years.”
Jenelle Baumbach: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @jenelleclar.