LINCOLN, Neb—Today the ACLU of Nebraska sent guidance to three Nebraska counties about their obligations under federal law to provide bilingual election materials. The counties are Colfax, Dakota, and Dawson. According to Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, counties are obligated to provide materials if over 5% of the total voting age population are a minority language group. For all three counties, over 5% of the population speaks Spanish.
“Few rights are more sacred than the right to vote and for 50 years, the ACLU has been defending this right for all Nebraskans,” said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. “The obligation under federal law is clear and simple: counties in Nebraska must provide election materials, such as registration forms, ballots, information pamphlets and similar materials in any language spoken by over 5% of the population. We are pleased that the counties we have previously contacted informed us they were in compliance. Our recent review, however, showed that Dakota is currently the only county that has forms on their website in all the required languages. We hope that the other counties will join them to make democracy as accessible as possible to all eligible Nebraskans.”
The ACLU sent similar letters in 2012 to these three counties. According to the ACLU, all of the counties indicated compliance. As of today, only Dakota has materials in both English and Spanish on their website. Colfax's website has no forms in any language online, and their site is only in English. While Dawson County has forms online they are only in English. According to the 2014 population estimates from the Census Bureau, 33.2% of Dawson County’s population is Hispanic or Latino.
“The fact that Dawson County’s Latino population has continued to grow since 2012 makes their lack of compliance particularly distributing. Given current population trends in Nebraska, it is likely that other counties will need to provide information in either Spanish or Lakota by the time the 2020 census data is complete,” said Miller. “We would encourage counties to begin complying now and provide bilingual materials for the 2016 primary and general elections.”
The ACLU shared their concerns with the Nebraska Secretary of State’s office, which oversees elections, as well as the Voting Section of the U.S. Department of Justice.