King County adds Spanish and Korean ballots, boosts voter outreach

One of the county's relatively new election boxes in Skyway. The box says "vote" and "ballot drop box" in Spanish, Chinese, English, Vietnamese and Korean — the languages that are available on county ballots. (Photo via King County Elections Twitter.)
King County is installing new ballot boxes throughout the county this year, including this one in Skyway. The box says “vote” and “ballot drop box” in Spanish, Chinese, English, Vietnamese and Korean — the languages that are available on county ballots. (Photo via King County Elections Twitter.)

In time for November’s general election, native speakers of Spanish and Korean will be able to get voting materials in those languages from King County for the first time.

The county elections office also kicked off this week voter outreach efforts in limited-English speaking communities to help citizens register to vote and to help voters get materials in their preferred languages.

The county and the Seattle Foundation has granted $242,000 to 22 community-based organizations for field outreach, according to a news release by King County Elections. Organizations include SeaMar, the Korean American Coalition, Tasveer, Somali Community Services and others.

Providing elections materials in voters’ languages is part of the federal Voting Rights Act and King County started providing voting materials in Chinese in 2002 and in Vietnamese in 2010. The threshold for language assistance is a population of more than 10,000, or of more than five percent of all voting age citizens.

The county last year announced its plans to add Spanish and Korean ballots as an option for voters, and also announcing that other languages meeting the federal requirements could be added in 2017 and following years.

Other counties in the state, including Yakima County, have provided voting materials in Spanish for more than a decade.

King County Elections already provides voting instructions, though not complete ballots, in several other languages, including Amharic, Punjabi and Russian.

The county, which started off the year with 10 permanent drop boxes, has also been increasing the number of permanent ballot drop boxes throughout the county, with the aim of having 43 permanent boxes by the general election.

The aims of King County Elections’ $240,000 ballot box plan included to increase equity and to ensure that more than 90 percent of King County residents live within 3 miles of a drop box.

According to a county analysis of American Community Survey data from 2010 to 2014, the number of limited-English speaking residents in King County is estimated as follows:

  • About 16,690 or 49 percent of eligible Chinese-speaking voters speak English less than very well.
  • About 13,960 or 60 percent of eligible Vietnamese-speaking voters speak English less than very well.
  • About 10,500 or 21 percent of eligible Spanish-speaking voters speak English less than very well.
  • About 6,480 or 46 percent of eligible Korean-speaking voters speak English less than very well.

This past August primary, King County voter turnout was 37 percent, which was an increase of 12 percentage points from 2015’s primary, but a slight decrease from the primary in 2012. The county’s turnout in the 2012 general election, the last one with a presidential election, was 83 percent.

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