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Skagit election official pushes for Spanish ballots

Commissioners not ready to fund proposal

Marco Morales looks towards the windows as the setting sun illuminates half his face.
Marco Morales, a precinct committee officer for the Skagit County Democrats, said he asked commissioners for Spanish-language election materials at a recent public hearing. (Trenton Almgren-Davis/Cascadia Daily News)
By Ralph Schwartz Staff Reporter

Skagit County’s top election official wants to provide Spanish-language ballots and other information to Hispanic voters who are less proficient in English, even though the county doesn’t meet the legal threshold that would mandate it. 

But Skagit County commissioners rejected Auditor Sandy Perkins’ recent request for $75,000 in 2023 to translate ballots, the voters pamphlet, the elections webpage and other materials into Spanish.

Perkins said she’ll ask the three-member board of commissioners again this summer.

“Everyone knows that Skagit has a growing Hispanic population, and they are becoming more vocal in their request for election materials,” Perkins said. “It’s extra work for me and my department, but I’m willing to do it because I believe it’s right.”

Marco Morales, a precinct committee officer for the Skagit County Democrats, said he asked commissioners for Spanish-language election materials at a recent public hearing.

“It’s not a big deal for me,” Morales said in an interview. “But people that I know, friends and family members that didn’t speak the language, I could see that they struggled to fill out their ballot … At times, this would prevent people from voting.

“These people are citizens of the United States, and they have the same rights as I do,” added Morales, 33.

Language requirement

Census data from 2021 shows 19% of Skagit County’s population is Hispanic. Further, 9% of eligible voters in the county — citizens 18 and older — speak Spanish.

The federal Voting Rights Act requires states or counties to provide election materials in another language if at least 5% of the voting population speaks that language and does not “speak or understand English adequately enough to participate in the electoral process.”

Skagit County does not meet this threshold. According to 2021 census data provided by the Washington Secretary of State, 1.6% of Spanish speakers in Skagit County have limited English proficiency. (In Whatcom County, only 0.3% of Spanish-speaking citizens 18 or older have limited English.)

Skagit commissioner Lisa Janicki, who also rejected Perkins’ request, nonetheless said she was “highly supportive of providing our voter information in Spanish, regardless of the threshold that has been set.”

Janicki, a Democrat, said she wants the elections office to involve Spanish-speaking members of the community in developing the materials, to ensure the translations are done right.

“How do we know we’re doing this correctly?” Janicki said. “What was the stakeholder input?”

She expected that the work could be completed in time for the 2024 presidential election.

Taking initiative

Only four of the 39 counties in Washington state must provide election materials in Spanish: King, Yakima, and Adams and Franklin counties in southeast Washington. King County is also federally mandated to provide voting assistance in Chinese and Vietnamese.

King and Pierce counties have taken the extra step of providing resources in non-required languages: Korean in King County; and Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese and other languages in Pierce.

Morales, despite his ties to the local Democrats, said his call for Skagit County to take similar initiative isn’t a partisan issue. After all, he said, Hispanic voters aren’t a monolith that votes for one party only.

“This would really benefit all candidates at the end of the day,” Morales said. “When you have more people participating, more people can potentially vote for you.”

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