Groton moving to dual language ballots
Groton — In a move to "better serve and represent its diverse population," the town will offer dual language ballots with instructions in both English and Spanish for elections and referenda.
"We looked at it from a lot of different angles, and we think it's doable, and we think it’s a good idea for the community," Town Mayor Patrice Granatosky said.
The registrars, League of Women Voters and town clerk had researched dual language ballots and provided information to the Town Council. In taking the step, approved by the council last week, Groton will be the only town in the state that voluntarily has dual language ballots, according to the Secretary of the State's Office.
Nine municipalities in Connecticut currently have such ballots: Bridgeport, East Hartford, Hartford, Meriden, New Britain, New Haven, New London, Waterbury and Windham, according to Gabe Rosenberg, communications director for Secretary of the State Denise Merrill. All are mandated to do so under the requirements of a section of the federal Voting Rights Act that covers "language minorities that have suffered a history of exclusion from the political process: Spanish, Asian, Native American, and Alaskan Native," according to the U.S. Department of Justice website.
In deciding which areas are mandated to have the dual language ballots, the Department of Justice takes into account the percentage of "single language minority group" members among voting-age residents, along with their literacy rates and English language proficiency, according to the department's website.
Groton Town Clerk Betsy Moukawsher said there will be no additional printing costs for dual language ballots, except if a ballot is very lengthy, for example if it had six pages of questions, in which case the printer may have to charge extra.
Granatosky said including Spanish on the ballots will make it more comfortable and people won't need to bring someone else for assistance.
Voters are allowed to bring another person with them into the privacy booth, with some exceptions of a union representative, boss or candidate, according to Groton Registrar of Voters Kristen Venditti.
Venditti said notifications at polling places already are in English and Spanish. The registrars have taped up sample ballots in English and Spanish in past federal and state elections, and there were sample ballots and explanatory text in English and Spanish for the schools referendum, she said.
The Town Council vote doesn't mandate that the city use the dual language ballots for city-only elections, but the registrars will recommend their use, Venditti said. The decision is up to City Clerk Deb Patrick, who said she and Venditti will discuss the issue closer to the next election for city officials in May 2021 and figure out the best course of action.
Granatosky said that for the second language on the ballot, Groton chose Spanish based on census data indicating it was the language that the highest percentage of people in New London County spoke — besides English. She added that while it can't possibly address every language spoken in the area, the town is doing its best to reach the most people and make the voting more accurate.
In supporting the measure, Town Councilor Aundré Bumgardner called it "very important considering the diversity of our town" and thanked the registrars and Councilor Portia Bordelon for starting the discussions. Granatosky also thanked the League of Women Voters.
Norwich, another local town, is not required and does not provide bilingual ballots for elections, but Republican Registrar Dianne Slopak said the registrar's office does send Spanish bilingual notices when canvassing registered voters and in registration acceptance letters.
Since Norwich schools have identified more than 30 different primary languages spoken in homes, it could be “a logistical nightmare” if that city were to try to provide bilingual ballots in one or more languages. Different dialects could further complicate the issue, Norwich Democratic Registrar Dianne Daniels added.
Daniels said she is not aware of any requests from Norwich voters to provide bilingual ballots. But at times, poll workers will be asked if a child can assist a parent in translating the ballot. Daniels said that is allowed, preferably with older children at least middle school age. Election moderators also have to ensure that the child is just assisting with translation and not influencing the voter or telling the voter how to cast the ballot.
Day Staff Writer Claire Bessette contributed to this report.
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