With the 2021 state legislative session in full swing, Arapahoe County elected officials have been weighing in on a pair of legislative measures with ties to voting access and representation, and to the recently completed 2020 Census.
Last week, County Board Chair Nancy Jackson offered testimony about a bill that would place more responsibility for redrawing districts onto large counties that have five commissioners.
“[The] very detailed and time-consuming requirements in the introduced version of [this bill] would be burdensome and time consuming in the best of circumstances,” Jackson said. “2021 is anything but the best of circumstances. Our board has been and continues to be overwhelmed with dealing with the plethora of issues related to the pandemic.” The Arapahoe County Board’s position on the bill went from opposed to neutral after some changes to it were made, and the bill subsequently passed the House in a party-line vote.
On Thursday, March 11, Clerk and Recorder Joan Lopez testified virtually in front of the Legislature in support of HB21-1011, which would require counties that meet certain demographic requirements to provide sample ballots in multiple languages, as well as establish a hotline to the Secretary of State’s Office for interpretation services.
“This bill will encourage participation among voters for whom English isn’t their first language,” Lopez said. “Anyone who has ever read—then reread—a ballot measure knows how complex the language can be. Now imagine this process for someone who didn’t learn English as their first language.”
Arapahoe County already provides Spanish-language sample ballots at every voter service and polling center (VSPC), as well as a phone line that non-English speakers can use to speak with an interpreter. The Arapahoe County Board also supports the bill’s passage.
The bill would require counties with 2,000 or more adult citizens who do not speak English fluently to provide sample ballots in the languages that are spoken in those counties. The same rule would apply if 2.5 percent of any county’s adult population met that criteria.
Read more details about HB21-1011.
If passed, the legislation would use data from the 2020 Census to inform which languages would require representation on sample ballots. Counties would be required to have the ballots and hotlines ready for the 2022 General Election.
Lopez acknowledged that the process may seem daunting, but she said it is no more complex than other agreements and contracts county clerks have to evaluate and implement every election cycle.
Moreover, she added, enfranchising voters who may be reluctant—or otherwise unable—to participate in the democratic process is well worth the extra effort.
“Imagine the pride someone will feel, knowing that they can participate in one of the most sacred practices in our country, just like every other Coloradan.”