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Elections and Voter Information

Voter Information

Election Advisory No. 2013-05

To: County Clerks/Elections Administrators and County Chairs
From: Keith Ingram, Director of Elections
Date: June 21, 2013
RE: Bilingual Election Official Requirements

This advisory is to remind you of the minority language requirements that apply to elections in Texas.  State and federal laws require all voting materials to be translated into Spanish statewide, and require the appointment of bilingual clerks in certain election precincts.  The U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has advised this office that they will continue to closely monitor compliance in each county with these bilingual election requirements.  Texas election law has required bilingual election materials and bilingual clerks since 1975, and most counties have readily complied with their obligations under federal and state law. 

TEAM offers two reports that provide assistance in determining bilingual poll worker assignments.  The first report is titled BilingElectWorkersbyPercentage, and this report reflects each county election precinct that has a 5% or higher ratio of Hispanic surnamed voters.  The second report is titled BilingElectWorkersbyCount, and this report is based on guidelines recommended by the DOJ, and reflects precincts broken down into three categories: (1) precincts with 100–249 Hispanic surnamed voters; (2) precincts with 250–499 Hispanic surnamed voters; and (3) precincts with 500 or more Hispanic surnamed voters.

Appointment of Bilingual Election Clerks

State law requires the presiding judge of an election precinct to make reasonable efforts to appoint a sufficient number of election clerks who are trained and fluent in both English and Spanish to serve the needs of the Spanish-speaking voters of the precinct, if five percent (5%) or more of the inhabitants are persons of Spanish origin or descent.  Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 272.009 (Vernon 2010).  Federal law requires that all assistance relating to the electoral process be provided in English and Spanish.  42 U.S.C. 1973b(f)(4) and 42 U.S.C. 1973aa-1a. (2003).

While state and federal laws contain general mandates concerning the obligation to provide bilingual clerks, these laws do not specify the number of bilingual clerks that must be appointed in each affected precinct.  Our office recommends that not less than one bilingual election clerk be appointed for each election precinct in which Spanish-surnamed voters comprise five percent (5%) or more of the population of the precinct.  You should note, however, that in some of these affected precincts, one bilingual clerk may not be sufficient to serve the needs of the Spanish-speaking voters, especially in polling locations where precincts are combined, or when new voting machines or other changes are likely to prompt additional questions from voters.  It shall remain the responsibility of the county to determine in its sole discretion the proper number of bilingual clerks to serve its Spanish-speaking voters. 

Please be advised that several Texas counties have entered into consent agreements with the DOJ to appoint bilingual workers pursuant to the precinct guidelines below.

Number of Spanish-surnamed Voters Number of Bilingual Election Officials
100-249 1
250-499 2
500 or more 3

You are not obligated to follow these ratios.  We share this information only for guideline purposes, and you must determine if these guidelines are appropriate for you county.  The report titled BilingElectWorkersbyCount available in TEAM reflects the number of bilingual election officials per precinct based on the DOJ guidelines adopted in consent decrees previous. 

We also have a report titled BilingElectWorkersbyPercentage in the TEAM system concerning the Spanish-surnamed voter population in your county’s election precincts to help you to determine the appropriate number of bilingual election officials needed at each affected precinct.  Our recommendation is that for each precinct with a population of five percent or more Hispanic surnamed voters that you should appoint a minimum of one bilingual clerk.  If you have questions regarding your county’s data, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the voter registration staff.

In addition, please remember to appoint an adequate number of bilingual clerks during early voting.  If the number of bilingual election clerks appointed to serve during early voting is insufficient to serve the number of Spanish-speaking voters in that election, at least one bilingual clerk must be appointed to serve at a central location.  Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 272.009 (Vernon 2010).  This bilingual clerk must be able to communicate via telephone to any affected precinct.

Translation of Bilingual Election Materials

Pursuant to state and federal law, all election materials prepared for voters in English must also be provided in Spanish, and any other required minority languages.  The bilingual requirement applies to instruction posters, ballots, official affidavits and other forms requiring voter’s signature, early voting materials, and all other election information provided to voters in English.  Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 272.005 (Vernon 2010), 42 U.S.C. 1973b(f)(4) and 42 U.S.C. 1973aa-1a. (2003).

Finding bilingual election clerks can be a challenge. The following suggestions may assist you in recruiting bilingual election clerks:

Survey all election workers and county employees to determine who speaks Spanish fluently. It is possible that some of the folks who regularly serve as a clerk in elections are bilingual.

Conduct outreach within the Spanish-speaking community.

Contact high schools to recruit Spanish-speaking, 18-year-old high school seniors who are registered voters. You might also explore the appointment of student clerks under Section 32.0511, Texas Election Code.

In Texas, the presiding judge is required to appoint the election clerks. Please impress upon the affected presiding judges, the requirement to appoint bilingual clerks.

In addition, DOJ offers some advice for complying with the federal Voting Rights Act in its letters to the State and Counties and in the Code of Federal Regulations. Some of their suggestions are as follows:

Ongoing communication with the language minority community.

Use of translators, with a review of translated materials by minority community members.

Voter registration outreach targeting members of the minority group, using deputy registrars from the minority community and setting up registration drives in locations frequented by members of that community. Presence of bilingual poll workers at polling places.

Presence of bilingual temporary employee in the office of the election official.

Assistance of minority community in identifying precincts with high minority population to assist in locating polling places, identifying which polling locations need bilingual poll workers, and assistance in recruiting and training those poll workers. Using “targeting” methods to identify precincts that need bilingual assistance is acceptable, rather than automatically adopting the language assistance countywide.

Informing public about availability of materials and assistance in the minority language.

Keeping records to document actions taken and efforts made to comply.

We hope that by reminding you of the state and federal bilingual election requirements, you will be able to appropriately respond to any potential inquiries or monitoring visits by DOJ officials or any other interested party.  If you have any questions about the information in this advisory, please contact the Elections Division at 1-800-252-VOTE(8683).