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Bilingual ballot advocate addresses elections board
Says Hall 'ahead of the curve'
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An officer with the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials on Tuesday reminded members of the Hall County Board of Elections of their commitment to provide bilingual ballots to the county’s Spanish-speaking population.

Harvey Soto, program coordinator for civic engagement and community organizing, thanked the group for its vote last month in favor of making voting material available in English and Spanish.

“We just want to applaud Hall County for taking this necessary first step to serve the full diversity of its citizenry,” Soto said, addressing the board during public comments. “Again, one extra step to ensuring that there’s full access to the fundamental right of voting here in the state of Georgia.”

By taking such a “critical step,” Soto predicted the board and county would avoid liability down the road. He said the federal government and other groups will want to implement the bilingual ballot initiative.

“That way you guys stay ahead of the curve and save yourselves a lot of time, money and headaches,” Soto said. “I think you guys are headed in the right direction.”

Soto said that GALEO looked at Osceola County in Florida, which he said has about the same number of Hispanics and general population as Hall County. Soto said it cost Osceola County 38 cents per bilingual ballot for all its Latino residents.

Applying the 38 cents per ballot cost, Soto projected it would only add an extra $5,700 to Hall County’s budget.

“I think it’s not really much considering you’re expanding the rights of all the citizens here in Hall County,” Soto said. “That’s really nothing.”

Republican Board member Ken Cochran, who presided over the meeting, said he’s not so sure about Soto’s numbers. Cochran said sources in Gwinnett County have told him they’ve already spent $400,000 and are only just getting started on complying with a U.S. Census order to provide bilingual ballots.

“It’s not just bilingual ballots,” Cochran said. “There’s other information and directions that would have to be translated. There’s ballot signs, instructions, registrations, forms ... That’s why I voted against it. I knew there was more to it.”

The two Democrats on the board, Gala Sheats and Kimberly Copeland, voted in favor of providing bilingual ballots.

Sheats said she introduced the motion because the county should not have to wait for a judge to order bilingual ballots.

“If you know that you have this population, just go ahead,” Sheats said. “Nobody should have to force you to do something that’s really right to help people.”

Craig Lutz, a former Hall County commissioner, made his debut on the board Tuesday. He’s a Republican.

Given that there are no countywide or statewide elections this year, Cochran said he doesn’t see anything happening until 2018.