By: Staff Reports | Gwinnett Citizen
voting box

A new U.S. Census Bureau designation will force Georgia’s second largest county to offer ballots “en Espagnol” for its Spanish speaking voter population.

According to the Census Bureau, this new designation will force Gwinnett County to offer Spanish-language ballots and other assistance to thousands of Hispanic voters, according to Gwinnett County officials. 

According to Joe Sorenson, communications director with Gwinnett County, the transition to bilingual voting procedures will encompass more than simply printing ballots in Spanish.

Ballots will be printed in both English and Spanish on the same form, Sorenson added. 

The addition of Spanish-language ballots was the result of a spike in minority voter registration across Gwinnett County and the metro Atlanta area. 

In the November 2016 presidential election, Hispanic voters helped Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton win Gwinnett County for the Democratic Party in her unsuccessful bid for the White House. Up until then, Gwinnett had voted Republican in every presidential election since the Reagan/Bush years, according to election records.

While President Donald J. Trump carried Georgia, he did not win in Gwinnett County, where Clinton defeated Trump by a 51-to-45 percent margin.

“GALEO (Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials) is very glad about the designation by the U.S. Census Bureau and the requirement to provide much needed Spanish language assistance to Latino voters in Gwinnett County,” said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.  “Voting is an important right we have as U.S. citizens, regardless of English language proficiency. As we had mentioned over one year ago, the need for Spanish language assistance and information is certainly a reality.”

The U.S. Census Bureau designation is part of Section 203 of the U.S. Voting Rights Act requiring jurisdictions to offer bilingual ballot access if more than 5 percent or 10,000 voting-age citizens are members of a single language minority and have difficulty speaking English. 

“We hit a population threshold where this applies to us now,” Sorenson said. 

So far, Gwinnett County is the only Georgia County included on the new Census Bureau designation list released last December. An estimated 171,000 of Gwinnett County residents – about one-fifth of the county’s population – are Latinos, according to the latest census figures.  

Gwinnett County officials intend to comply with any new voting requirements as stated in the Voting Rights Act.

“As soon as the order came down we had to work to be in compliance with the new order,” said County Spokesperson Joe Sorenson. “We don’t have a deadline we’re working against other than being in compliance as quickly as possible.”

The new process will also affect registration materials and other daily operations, in addition to the new ballots, he added. “We’re working on being in compliance, not just the county, but each individual city needs to be in compliance as well. The cities have their own individual elections. On a very high level, everything that touches voters and potential voters happens in Spanish as well as English. We’re working on total compliance.”

This includes having translators on site as well as voting monitors, Sorenson said. 

The transition is still a work in progress, Sorenson said. “We are working for total compliance in the next couple weeks.”