Though not required in Hazleton area, version for Spanish speakers makes sense, say officials

Last updated: August 29. 2013 11:54AM - 3484 Views
By - smocarsky@civitasmedia.com

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WILKES-BARRE — The Luzerne County Election Board on Wednesday voted to continue providing a Spanish version of the ballot and English/Spanish interpreters in the Hazleton area after considering a written complaint.

Bureau of Elections Director Marissa Crispell-Barber told the board the bureau received a letter questioning the practice of providing a Spanish option on the electronic voting machines.

“Why aren’t the polls also in German, French, Russian, etc.? Why are we catering to, pacifying and appeasing people who cannot speak a word of English?” the letter writer asked.

Crispell-Barber said she checked with the state Department of State, and the county is not required to provide the ballot in Spanish based on the percentage of Spanish-speaking residents cited in the 2010 census. She also said the Spanish version “doesn’t take that much time to create” and doesn’t involve “any extra work” for her.

Solicitor Michael Butera said former bureau director Leonard Piazza decided to begin providing the ballot in Spanish a few years ago. “He said we’re not required to do it now, but we’re going to be required in the very, very near future, so we might as well do it now.”

Board Chairman H. Jeremy Packard said, based on comments he’s heard, the Spanish option “does annoy people. Whether that annoyance stems from the general fairness overview or whether it stems from some ethnic prejudices and concerns … the question is: If we are … going to (be close to the threshold for the state requirement to provide a Spanish ballot option by the next census), should we go ahead and continue to do what we’ve been doing?”

Packard said it would make “good administrative sense” to do so.

Board member John F. Newman asked how many Pennsylvania counties provide ballots in Spanish. Crispell-Barber said there are three: Lehigh, Philadelphia and Allegheny.

“We do know that we have a heavy concentration of Hispanic voters in a portion of the county. So essentially, we would be discriminating in a sense against them if we didn’t do the Spanish ballot, especially since we’ve already set the precedent,” Newman said, adding that he didn’t think the county should provide interpreters.

Crispell-Barber said the bureau does pay three interpreters as poll workers who stay in certain precincts in Hazleton on Election Day. “They rotate, they visit different places during the day,” she said, explaining that poll workers can call to have an interpreter sent to another precinct when and if needed.

Board member Thomas Baldino said he was fine with both practices “as long as it is not costing us additional money that is exorbitant.” The same number of poll workers would be at Hazleton area polls regardless of whether some spoke English and Spanish, he said.

The board voted unanimously to continue both practices.

The board also voted to certify the Hazleton Area School Board election results, having received the special election results from Carbon and Schuylkill counties. A special school board election was necessary in those counties because Crispell-Barber failed to notify the election bureaus there that a board member had withdrawn from the race and his name appeared on the ballots in those counties.

There was no public discussion of Crispell-Barber’s decision to terminate three bureau employees and eliminate their positions. The board did, however, go into executive session after adjourning the regular meeting to discuss personnel issues.

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