LAWRENCEVILLE — One of Georgia’s largest counties is trying to hire hundreds of Spanish-speaking poll workers for upcoming elections.
Gwinnett County Elections Director Lynn Ledford said she needs more than 2,000 poll workers before May’s primary elections, including 350 who are fluent in both English and Spanish. The county northeast of Atlanta is home to an estimated 171,000 Latinos. One recent study found that it had more than 44,000 registered Latino voters during 2016’s presidential election.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Gwinnett County is the first and only community in Georgia to receive a U.S. Census Bureau designation mandating that it offer voter materials and assistance in Spanish. It’s among only a handful of communities in the South outside of Florida or Texas to receive the U.S. Census Bureau designation.
In December 2016, Gwinnett officially received the designation, which is tied to the federal Voting Rights Act and applied to jurisdictions where more than 5 percent of the voting age population are members of one language minority and have difficulty speaking English.
Now, the upcoming election season will bring countywide general elections, including a gubernatorial race and two races for county commission seats.
Hall County also is considering moving toward bilingual ballots for its growing Spanish-speaking population. The election board is researching the cost of such a move, which was determined to be about $700,000 in Gwinnett.
In terms of bilingual poll workers, the federal guidelines Gwinnett must now follow aren’t overly specific and different jurisdictions have handled the demands in different ways. Ledford, though, said she wants to attempt to hire two Spanish speakers for each of its 156 voting precincts, as well as about two dozen more to staff the eight locations the county opens during early voting.
The stated goal of 350 would cover all that and then some.
There have been detractors of Gwinnett County’s other efforts toward complying with its federal mandate, and finding enough qualified and willing poll workers isn’t the only potential speed bump the county will face.
Milwaukee, which has about 600,000 residents, roughly 18 percent of them Hispanic, was first mandated to offer Spanish-language assistance to voters following the 2010 census.
Neil Albrecht, executive director of the city’s election commission, said the city’s 2012 general election, its first offering such assistance, went “OK” but was hardly free of issues. Most of the glitches — Spanish-language signage not being posted as prominently as English signs, for instance — were simple enough to address, Albrecht said, but other potential complications have lingered.
They include the challenge of hiring poll workers, which Gwinnett County is just beginning.
“Certainly recruiting the bilingual election workers was and continues to be our greatest challenge,” Albrecht told the Atlanta newspaper.