Sonoma County to provide voting materials in Spanish

There are 28 counties throughout the state that are required to provide translated voter information in one or more languages, according to the California Secretary of State.|

Sonoma County will be required to print ballots and other voting materials in Spanish after meeting a threshold set by the federal Voting Rights Act for states and counties that have large enough language minority groups.

The California Secretary of State notified Sonoma County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor-Registrar of Voters Deva Proto of the change on Dec. 10, when the agency sent her an email about the new requirement, Proto said.

The notice explains Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act mandates states and political jurisdictions to provide translated voting materials when 5% of its citizens of voting age are part of a single-language minority group and have limited English proficiency; or when that number reaches 10,000 people.

The language assistance is also required for jurisdictions that have reservations where 5% of Native American or Alaska Native citizens over the age of 18 are members of a single-language minority and are limited-English proficient.

The Voting Rights Act requirement, which is determined every five years by the U.S. Census Bureau using American Community Survey data, also requires the illiteracy rate of citizens in a language minority to be higher than the national illiteracy rate, the text of the act says.

This is the first time Sonoma County has met one of those thresholds, though Proto said she did not know which one. The U.S. Census Bureau did not immediately provide that information on Wednesday.

“It means that we will be printing out our ballots in English and Spanish pursuant to federal law, as well as our voter guides or any information we send out,” Proto said.

“There will be translation costs associated with it, as well as printing and postage costs because the ballot will have to be larger to accommodate both languages and the voter information guide will use more paper.”

The cost of producing voter materials is shared among the local jurisdictions that have races on the ballot, Proto said. While the cost of elections varies, Proto estimated the federal requirement will mean jurisdictions will have to pay 50 cents to $1 more per voter.

The April 2022 special election to fill a seat on the Windsor Town Council will be the first in Sonoma County to have all voter information printed in English and Spanish, Proto said. Previously, the county only provided translated ballots in Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese and Khmer upon request.

Karym Sanchez, the executive director of North Bay Organizing Project, a nonprofit that focuses on civic engagement and voter outreach, said the change could help get more Spanish-speaking immigrants to the polls in Sonoma County.

The group is one that is not often raised with a culture of participating in democracy, something his nonprofit is attempting to change, Sanchez added.

“A lot of the younger folks are eligible for voting in the Latinx community, but they come from families that didn’t have that opportunity,” he said.

“There’s not those conversations at the dinner table around ballot measures. Even for us who can’t vote, we have people close to us that can, and unless we’re engaging in those conversations, we’re not going to be able to influence democracy,” he said.

The impact on communities whose members are encouraged to participate in elections from an early age versus those who aren’t is clear when looking at voter turnout among different precincts in Sonoma County, he added.

He pointed to Santa Rosa’s affluent Oakmont neighborhood, where voter turnout during the Nov. 2020 election reached 96.33%, among the highest in Sonoma County that year.

In contrast, the nearby Roseland neighborhood, which is home to one of the largest segments of Sonoma County’s Latino population, has historically seen only a fraction of its eligible voters at the polls, he said.

“I want to reemphasize what I consider a cultural deficit. Folks in Oakmont I’m sure come from a long tradition of discussing what’s on the ballot … you constantly get politicians knocking on their doors and talking about their issues,” Sanchez said. “But in Roseland, that’s not happening.”

Napa County, which previously had no language minority group covered by the Voting Rights Act section, is also now required to provide translated voting materials in Spanish.

In all, 28 of California’s 58 counties are required to provide translated voter information in one or more languages, the California Secretary of State said.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or On Twitter @nashellytweets.

Nashelly Chavez

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Press Democrat 

Who calls the North Bay home and how do their backgrounds, socioeconomic status and other factors shape their experiences? What cultures, traditions and religions are celebrated where we live? These are the questions that drive me as I cover diversity, equity and inclusion in Sonoma County and beyond.   


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