LULAC asks Secretary of State to allow non-English voting materials

By: - August 3, 2021 2:01 pm

“I voted” stickers are scattered over a table at a polling site in Des Moines on Nov. 3, 2020. (Photo By Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa (LULAC) is asking the Secretary of State to allow voting materials to be published and completed in languages other than English.

“Our democracy works best when every Iowa voter can participate in the process,” LULAC Iowa State Director Nick Salazar said in a news release. “Forcing Spanish-speaking voters to vote in a language they do not understand denies their right to vote and weakens the integrity of our elections.”

The Secretary of State Paul Pate has 60 days to respond to the petition, which asks for clarification about the law and requests that Pate allow non-English voting materials statewide. LULAC may bring legal action if Pate does not respond in that time.

Kevin Hall, spokesperson for the Secretary of State, said the office had not yet received a filing from LULAC.

“In the event we do receive such a filing, we will follow the process outlined in Iowa law,” Hall said.

Why does Iowa prohibit non-English voting forms?

The issue stems from a 2002 law that declared English as the official language of Iowa — and therefore the language of official documents, meetings, publications and other state business. The law does not apply to certain situations, like language instruction, public health and safety announcements documents and “any language usage … necessary to secure the rights guaranteed by the Constitution.”

After the passage of that law, Iowa’s Secretary of State released voter registration forms translated into non-English languages. Former U.S. Rep. Steve King filed suit in 2007, arguing that the non-English forms violated the 2002 law.

A state court ruled in 2008 that voter registration forms must be in English only.

LULAC Director Joe Henry contends “a continuing misinterpretation” of that court ruling has disenfranchised voters who speak Spanish.

“Since then, thousands of non-English speaking U.S. citizens have been unable to access voter information from local and state officials in languages, such as Spanish, that would ensure the right to vote as guaranteed by the laws of the United States and constitution of the state of Iowa,” Henry said in a news release. 

Two Iowa counties — Buena Vista and Tama — are permitted to use voting forms in other languages under the federal Voting Rights Act. LULAC requests that the Iowa Secretary of State issue guidance about whether it is legal to translate and distribute voting information in other languages across Iowa’s other 97 counties.

Specifically, the group wants to know:

  • Can county auditors outside of Buena Vista County use the official Spanish version of voter registration forms?
  • Can county auditors across Iowa accept the official Spanish version of the National Mail Voter Registration Form?
  • Can county auditors outside of Buena Vista County use the official Spanish version of absentee ballot request forms?

In an emailed statement, Pate said that he had reached out to Spanish-speaking voters in past elections and would continue to do so.

“My office has conducted numerous outreach efforts with the Spanish speaking community to help them understand Iowa’s election laws and deadlines,” Pate said. “That includes ads on TV, radio and print, as well was working with the Iowa Office of Latino Affairs.”

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.