US Monitors Ohio Election to Ensure Compliance with Bilingual Ballots

Federal monitors are keeping an eye on the election in an Ohio county to make sure that it is complying with an agreement to offer ballots in Spanish.

Lorain County, west of Cleveland, has a growing Puerto Rican population.

The Plain Dealer reports the Justice Department observers want to see that the Voting Rights Act is being followed. It requires that ballots and election materials be supplied in other languages if those materials would be needed by a minority group making up more than 5 percent of the voting-age population.

Lorain County agreed to provide bilingual ballots county-wide and bilingual poll workers on a targeted precinct basis.

The agreement resulted from a voting-rights lawsuit brought by the U.S. Justice Department.
The Plain Dealer reports that Puerto Rican voters – who are U.S. citizens by birth -- who have limited English skills were not exercising their full voting rights because of inadequate resources to help them.

Bilingual ballots also are available in Cuyahoga (ky-uh-HOH'-guh) County, which includes Cleveland. It reached a similar agreement with the Justice Department last year.

Federal election monitors are also expected to be in California, Massachusetts, Mississippi and Texas, according to The Plain Dealer.

The newspaper says that between 2000 and 2010, the Puerto Rican population in Lorain County grew to 17,000 from 13,000, with about a third of the voting age members of the community reporting limited English proficiency.

In the run-up to the 2012 elections, the federal government is ordering that 248 counties and other political jurisdictions provide bilingual ballots to Hispanics and other minorities who speak little or no English.

That number is down from a decade ago following the 2000 census, which covered 296 counties in 30 states. In all, more than 1 in 18 jurisdictions must now provide foreign-language assistance in pre-election publicity, voter registration, early voting and absentee applications as well as Election Day balloting.

The latest requirements, mandated under the Voting Rights Act, partly reflect second and third generations of racial and ethnic minorities who are now reporting higher levels of proficiency in English than their parents.

Still, analysts cite a greater potential for resistance from localities that face tighter budgets, new laws requiring voter IDs at polls and increased anti-immigration sentiment.

This story contains material from The Associated Press.

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