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69 Texas Counties Failing To Provide Proper Bilingual Elections Info, ACLU of Texas Says

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David Martin Davies | Texas Public Radio

In areas where a significant part of the population has limited English proficiency, the 1975 Voting Rights Act requires the "clear, complete and accurate” translation of election materials. The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas says 69 counties in the Lonestar State are violating that provision with inadequate or poorly translated information for Spanish-speaking voters.

Earlier this month, the civil rights group sent letters to the 16 counties it says are top offenders, including Webb County in South Texas.

“What we noticed is that many counties that fall under that requirement were either providing inaccurate translations, limited translations or no translations into Spanish,” said Edgar Saldivar, a senior attorney for ACLU of Texas. “We wanted to bring awareness to that in light of the upcoming election and because a significant number of Texans are Spanish speakers.”

He said some counties’ translations didn’t make sense because they were automated through tools like Google Translate, others posted links to translations that don’t work, and some didn’t have any translations.

The Webb County elections webpage does not currently have any immediately visible Spanish translations, and only some posted documents included Spanish translations. But about 36% of the population there speaks English "less than very well," according to the Census Bureau.

TPR News reached out to Webb County Elections Administrator Jose Salvador Tellez. He said he believed there should already be bilingual information, and that he hadn’t yet seen the ACLU’s letter.

“I’ll review it when it comes in, and I’ll go over it with our I.T. people,” he said. “If there’s any changes that need to be made, I guarantee you I will take care of it.”

Saldivar said this isn’t the first time that they informed officials of the violations, but it is more pressing during the pandemic.

“During a pandemic, when people aren’t able to go to local libraries or county offices to get their information, oftentimes their only available resource is a website,” he said. “So we want to make sure this information is available in the way it’s supposed to be under the Voting Rights Act.”

In the letters, the ACLU of Texas asked officials to respond or make changes by Oct. 2. If they don't, the group will consider further legal action. 

Texas’ November voter registration deadline is Oct. 5. General voting information can be found in Spanish on the Texas Secretary of State’s website.

María Méndez can be reached at maría@tpr.org or on Twitter at @anxious_maria. She is a corps member of Report For America.

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