North County election fair
North county residents are handed election materials by Paul Mendoza, a candidate for the Vallecitos Water District, at the Universidad Popular election education fair in San Marcos. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

This November will be Martha Hernandez’s third time voting in an election since she became a U.S. citizen. Exercising that right is a priority for her. With a high-school aged son, she votes to advocate for neighborhood schools and improve her and her family’s quality of life. 

But voting so far has been challenging. Her first time voting, no one at the polling place she visited spoke Spanish, her native and most comfortable language. She’s had questions while voting in the past, and having in-language assistance would have made a big difference in helping her feel confident in the process, she said. 

“For me there is a total difference, from heaven to earth. Huge,” Hernandez said in Spanish.

As the local election office gears up for the November midterms, advocates for new American citizens say a lack of in-language voting materials and assistance at voting centers have made voting harder for communities who primarily speak minority languages. 

Laws at the federal, state and local levels require county elections offices to provide in-language voting materials and oral language assistance for voters who speak those languages. 

Data from the San Diego County Registrar of Voters shows more than 60,000 eligible voters – out of 1.9 million total in the county as of late September — requested voting materials in Spanish for the upcoming election. Nearly 2,000 requested materials in Filipino, more than 3,000 requested materials in Chinese and more than 7,000 in Vietnamese. 

But actually hiring poll workers who speak languages other than English proves challenging each year, according to Cynthia Paes, San Diego County’s registrar of voters.

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