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Dozens of Texas Counties Are Not Providing Bilingual Info on Websites, Group Says

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT
A file photo of a polling location in Travis County on February 23, 2016.

Election officials in Texas are being accused of violating the Voting Rights Act, again.

This time it’s because dozens of county election administrators are not providing bilingual voter information on their websites, according to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).

Attorneys with the group say they found 36 counties that haven't provided Spanish-language information on websites, which, they say, runs afoul of federal regulations.

[U]nder Section 203 of the federal Voting Rights Act, counties are required to provide bilingual election information if more than five percent of the population, or 10,000 voting age citizens, belong to a single language minority, have depressed literacy rates, and do not speak English very well.

Grace Chimene with the League of Women Voters of Texas spent weeks compiling information about county websites recently. She and her group combed through the state’s 242 existing county websites. Chimene says they found that only 40 county websites in the state had any information provided in Spanish.

The bar for that was really low, too, Chimene explains.

All the counties had to do was include a link to the Texas Secretary of State’s office, which had already translated information into Spanish. Chimene says it’s “ridiculous” that county officials aren’t doing all they can to make sure their residents are getting the voting information they need.

“In Texas, counties are the local government that really is the interface for most Texans,” Chimene explains. “If the county is responsible for it, the county should provide information to their residents.”

Nina Perales, the vice president of litigation for MALDEF, said in a statement this week that “more than 850,000 Latino eligible voters live in Texas counties that haven't provided election information in Spanish.”

"In a state as diverse as Texas, a bilingual website is a basic service to voters, not to mention a legal requirement,” Perales continued.

Among the counties in violation of Section 203, MALDEF says, is Tarrant County – where 16 percent of its 1.19 million eligible voters are Latino.

“People who speak Spanish as their native language sometimes feel more comfortable reading about something as important as voting and elections in their native language," Chimene says.

Tarrant County was among the list of state's violating the VRA, MALDEF says. More than 16 percent of Tarrant's 1.19 million eligible voters are Latino citizens. Hidalgo County – where 85 percent of eligible voters are Latino citizens, according to the U.S. Census—is also on the list.

As of late, both local and state election officials in Texas have been accused by groups – and even by federal courts – to be violating federal election laws.

This past summer, a federal appeals ruled the state’s voter ID law violated the Voting Rights Act because it made it harder for minorities to vote.

And earlier this year, a civil rights group in Texas filed a lawsuit over the states so-called "motor voter" program. The suit alleged the state was deceiving people who updated the address on their driver’s licenses online. Voters would check the voter registration box online when renewing their licenses and assume it would also update the address on their voter registration, but it doesn’t.

Last month, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights flagged some recent voting rights issues in the state, including the state’s administration of motor voter.

“Texas, Texas, Texas, what are we to do with you?” the Commission said in its report. “As always, Texas is at the heart of voter restrictions and efforts to make life more difficult for minorities and Limited English Proficiency (LEP) communities.”

Here is MALDEF’s complete list of counties in violation of Section 203:

  • Titus County, Texas
  • Andrews County, Texas
  • Brewster County, Texas
  • Caldwell County, Texas
  • Frio County, Texas
  • Gonzales County, Texas
  • Guadalupe County, Texas
  • Karnes County, Texas
  • Kinney County, Texas
  • Medina County, Texas
  • San Saba County, Texas
  • Upton County, Texas
  • Val Verde County, Texas
  • Wilson County, Texas
  • Bee County, Texas
  • Calhoun County, Texas
  • Duval County, Texas
  • Hidalgo County, Texas
  • Jim Wells County, Texas
  • Kleberg County, Texas
  • La Salle County, Texas
  • Live Oak County, Texas
  • Nueces County, Texas
  • Willacy County, Texas
  • Zapata County, Texas
  • Cochran County, Texas
  • Dawson County, Texas
  • Deaf Smith County, Texas
  • Gaines County, Texas
  • Glasscock County, Texas
  • Lynn County, Texas
  • Moore County, Texas
  • Parmer County, Texas
  • Runnels County, Texas
  • Sherman County, Texas
  • Sutton County, Texas
  • Tarrant County, Texas
Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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