When Gwinnett County voters insert their ballot cards into voting machines in the upcoming primary election, they’ll face a new question: English or Spanish?
Gwinnett County officials said they are taking several steps to comply with a federal mandate that they provide voting materials in Spanish as well as English, beginning with this year’s primary election. That means election paperwork, voter registration forms, voting signs, ballots and even the stickers given to voters after they cast ballots are now bilingual.
It stems from a U.S. Census Bureau designation issued in December 2016, in which the federal government said Gwinnett’s Spanish-speaking population was now large enough that elections have to be done in English and Spanish.
The changes will be on full display when advance voting for the primary begins Monday.
“We just kind of wanted to put that out there to let folks know when they do start voting on Monday, they are going to see these changes and these changes were as a result of a federal requirement for Gwinnett County,” Gwinnett Elections Registration and Elections Director Lynn Ledford said.
Gwinnett is the only county in Georgia that the Census Bureau has said must provide bilingual ballots and other elections materials under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act. About 20 percent of people who live in Gwinnett are Hispanic, according to Census estimates.
Polls will have election signs in both English and Spanish, and when voters insert their cards into voting machines, they will be asked to choose a language for the ballot. If they chose Spanish, all ballot questions and office titles will appear in that language instead of English.
New Gwinnett-specific “I Voted” stickers will be bilingual as well. Ledford said the stickers were created because there was a state that was sued because — while it had switched to bilingual elections — it only issued “I Voted” stickers in English.
“Our guidance from the Department of Justice was that we have ‘I Voted’ stickers in English and in Spanish — but on the same sticker, not two separate stickers,” Ledford said.
The stickers say “I Voted” with “Yo Vote” underneath, with a peach on the side.
Ledford said the county is also recruiting Spanish-speaking poll workers for all 156 voting locations.
“We are on track to have one at every voting location, as well as the satellite voting locations,” Ledford said. “That is not a requirement, but it is something that Gwinnett felt like we needed to do — to have a person (there), not just a piece of paper.”
How much this will cost remains to be seen. Switching to bilingual elections materials was initially projected to cost between $1 million to $1.5 million, but the actual cost is still being tabulated.
“We’ve heard from some folks that have voiced their concern that this is something the county shouldn’t be doing, but the important thing is we’re complying with federal law,” county spokesman Joe Sorenson said.
“And we’re going beyond it. We’re not (just) complying with the letter of the law. I think we’re doing a really good job of complying with the spirit of the law.”