Feds will monitor election languages

San Mateo is one of seven California counties that will be monitored today by the U.S. Department of Justice to ensure its compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

All the monitored counties, which include Santa Clara and Alameda, are required under the law to provide materials in two or more languages due to the large immigrant populations there, department spokesman Eric Holland said.

Other counties in California are required to also provide information in Vietnamese, Tagalog and Korean.

Holland wouldn’t disclose exactly how many observers there would be or where they will be stationed, but said they’ll only be in place to make sure the rules, particularly those regarding multilingual voter information, are followed. DOJ officials will also be monitoring primary elections in Alabama, New Mexico, New Jersey and South Dakota.

“This is just information gathering and making sure everyone is following the rules,” Holland said.

San Mateo County Elections Manager David Tom said he doesn’t expect any ripples in today’s game plan from the federal presence, thanks in part to nearly 400 bilingual poll workers the county will have stationed at select precincts.

The county spends 15 percent to 20 percent more on each election than it would have without the required Spanish and Chinese materials, Tom said, who noted that the state and various special interest groups have also monitoredhis agency in the past for compliance.

Turnout today is expected to be in the 40 percent range, with 47,000 absentee ballots already turned in. Voter turnout has ranged between 36 percent and 44 percent during the last 12 years for midterm elections, jumping most recently to 78 percent in the 2004 presidential election.

“Turnout changes from election to election but we’re hoping, like always, that we’ll be on the higher end,” Tom said.

Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act requires that if a certain percentage of a county’s population speaks certain languages, elections officials must provide voter information in those languages as well, Holland said.

tramroop@examiner.com

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