Spanish-speaking Oklahomans often only see English ballots

Oklahoma’s Hispanic population has grown 42% since the 2020 census, making them the fastest growing demographic group in the state. Still, 21,000 Spanish-speaking citizens of Oklahoma will have to vote in a language they don’t fully understand next month.

A third of them live in Oklahoma County, where the GOP has recently stepped up efforts to attract Latino voters.

The hurdle to changing that: a 2010 state bill—approved by 75 percent of voters—amending the constitution to make English the official state language.

An exception granted by federal law explains why Texas County in the Panhandle is the only political jurisdiction in the state to publish registration forms and ballots in Spanish.

In the 2016 election, 5% of Texas County citizens of voting age were “unable to understand enough English to participate in the electoral process”, activating a provision of the Voting Rights Act requiring the provisions of voting forms. voter registration and ballots in Spanish and bilingual poll workers in each constituency.

Using 2020 census data, this projects to 608 citizens of voting age who had access to voting materials in their native language. This number could be higher considering racial and ethnic minorities suffer from significant undercountsaccording to the US Census Bureau.

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About 7,500 eligible voters in Oklahoma County did not. This is because the county does not have a separate Voting Rights Act qualification – 10,000 citizens of voting age who only speak a language other than English.

Fred Mendoza, a Latino community leader who helped the GOP find the Capitol Hill location for its Hispanic Community Center, said Oklahoma was behind on statewide Spanish-speaking voting materials.

“It’s just practical common sense for both parties and it’s to reach out to the electorate and make it easier for anyone, regardless of their demographic group, to vote,” Mendoza said. “I think it has to be done.”

Voters in states like Texas, Florida, and California have access to Spanish-language voting materials statewide because they meet population thresholds. In Kansas, where six counties qualify, voters living outside those jurisdictions can cross-reference their English registration forms with the Spanish equivalents provided on the Secretary of State’s website, but can only submit the versions English.

Republicans are courting the Hispanic vote

The Republican supermajority in the Oklahoma Legislature led a redistricting process in 2021 that divide largest Hispanic community in the state in three congressional districts. A year later, the party is accelerating its engagement in the largely Hispanic and historically blue south of Oklahoma City.

Governor Kevin Stitt broadcasts an announcement in Spanish on social media. Local legislative candidates translate campaign brochures. And in July, the Republican National Committee opened its Hispanic Community Center on Capitol Hill.

“We saw a shift in the Hispanic vote in 2020. We realized that Hispanic values ​​reflected Republican values ​​of faith, family and opportunity,” said Alex Kuehler, spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

In 2020, 38% of Hispanic voters nationwide voted for Donald Trump — a 10-point increase from 2016 — compared to 59% of those who voted for Joe Biden, according to a Pew study study. A New York Times/Sienna college survey conducted in July shows the gap narrowing for the 2022 midterm elections, with 41% of respondents leaning left, 38% right and 21% remaining undecided.

Kuehler said the community center is one of more than 30 that have opened across the country this year. As well as being a place where campaign volunteers can make calls and go door-to-door or voter registration runs, he said he will host church nights, game nights and movies, potlucks and campaign forums.

But these efforts focus more on awareness than access.

Camilo “Cam” Ulloa directs the daily activities of the community center. It clarifies the positions of local Republican candidates, offers a citizenship test prep course, and explains the voter registration form step-by-step in Spanish to those who need it.

Ulloa said a lack of translated information from government and local bipartisan candidates is fueling an attitude of civic apathy among Hispanics. For limited English speakers, he said, filling out forms with an official-sounding language can easily become a chore.

“In the Hispanic community, it’s like, ‘I have to take care of my grandkids and I’d rather not take the time to sign up,'” Ulloa said, “Or they have kids who are at school or work and they’re like, “I don’t want to fill out a form that’s probably in English and I don’t even know why the local judge or commissioner is showing up.”

Some people who have come to the center have asked what are primaries and ballots, and what is the role of government positions like county commissioner and state superintendent. Others have asked for help registering as Democrats, Ulloa said, admitting he helps them too.

House candidates support translated ballots

Two Oklahoma City metropolitan area candidates for the State House said they would support providing voting materials in languages ​​other than English. Gloria Banister is a Republican running for House District 87 in northwest Oklahoma City. His district is 27% Hispanic, and Banister said Vietnamese Oklahomans would benefit as well.

“Although you can speak English, that doesn’t mean you can read and write it very well,” Banister said. “That’s what I encountered, and that’s why I think there is a need for translation.”

Annie Menz, a Democrat running for House District 45 in eastern Norman, wants to become the first Latina elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives. She said she would support moves to translate voting materials.

“Almost every time I go out, I’ll have Hispanic surnames on these lists. They’re registered Democrats, they were engaged enough to register as Democrats, but they didn’t actually vote,” said Menz, founder of Hispanic Cultural Day at the Capitol and former legislative aide to the state senator. Michael Brooks, D-Oklahoma. Town.

“And I show up on their doorstep and I speak Spanish to them and I can see it. I can see them excited to vote again.

Keaton Ross contributed to this story.

Watch Oklahoma, at oklahomawatch.orgis a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers public policy issues facing the state.