April’s general election will mark the first time every voter in Dane County can vote using a Spanish-language ballot, in a process the Dane County Clerk’s office said is “just like on an ATM.”
Previously only offered in the Town of Madison, the Spanish-language option was applied countywide for the first time in February’s primary election. Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell told the Press with elections at every polling place in April and greater voter turnout, it will be a better gauge of its efficacy, as more people will vote and know about the option.
The Town of Madison has printed Spanish-language ballots since 2016, but voters at other locales will use the ExpressVote and Automark voting machines to take advantage of the feature. Each polling location in the county has at least one such machine, which has assistance features like Braille and audio instructions.
The first part of the process will be the same for voters of either language: verifying their address with poll workers and then receiving a card to exchange for a ballot. But instead of exchanging that card for a physical ballot, a poll worker will help the voter insert the card into a voting machine, and the poll worker will then select the proper ward. The voter is then asked to select a language and the questions on the ballot start coming up on the screen.
After the voter is done, the ballot will print and the voter will insert it into the scanner, which also has instructions in Spanish. The voting machines are also used for voters who have difficulty seeing or hearing, and the audio instructions will be available in Spanish, as well.
The reason the county isn’t adding Spanish to printed ballots is for length and layout considerations, McDonell wrote.
“So far the cost has been minimal, a few hundred dollars,” McDonell wrote in an email. “We have a Spanish-speaking employee here (who) has helped a great deal, and we have contracted smaller amounts for technical referendum questions, etc.”
Town of Madison clerk Renee Schwass told the Press adding Spanish to the printed ballots has made them slightly longer – in one instance, turning a single-sided ballot into a two-sided one – but the town hasn’t had major issues with it.
The town was ordered to print Spanish-language ballots in the December 2016 Federal Register and is one of three such municipalities in Wisconsin, along with Arcadia and Milwaukee.
According the Federal Voting Rights Act, a municipality must provide language assistance to voters if more than 5 percent of voting-age citizens are “members of a single-language minority group and do not ‘speak or understand English adequately enough to participate in the electoral process’ and if the rate of those citizens who have not completed the fifth grade is higher than the national rate of voting-age citizens who have not completed the fifth grade.”
McDonell said in the future, he’d like to see all voting done on the machines to reduce cost and waste. With the machines, “the ballots are on demand ...so we don’t waste paper and we never run out,” McDonell wrote.