The recent decision by the Hall County Board of Elections to begin making bilingual ballots accessible to the public has attracted some attention. Several letters to the editor have been written from people who are in favor of and people opposed to adding Spanish to our local ballots.
The latest poll on The Times’ website has delved into the issue with the question “should Hall County provide ballots in both English and Spanish for voters?” The poll’s answers depict the common arguments for each side. Yes argues for inclusiveness while no stresses that the cost isn’t justified for so few voters.
Too expensive for so few voters? I keep hearing the potential cost vilified, and yet I have not heard what that cost will be. A dollar for each Spanish-speaking voter? A thousand dollars?
Cost is important. But more important than the price is value. A dollar wasted is just that, wasted. A thousand dollars well-spent is a sound investment. I believe that including more people in the voting process is a wise investment in our democracy.
Maybe the point is that there are not enough people who will benefit. However, the Latino community is the fastest growing in Hall County. In the 2000 census, persons of Hispanic or Latino origin accounted for 19.56 percent of Hall residents. In 2010, that community increased to 26.1 percent. More than 1 in 4 people in Hall County in 2010 were Latino. I would have to believe that number has grown since. It seems that there is clearly a need in this county to reach out to a growing part of our community.
Yet in The Times’ opinion poll, a vast majority of those responding say that the expense is not justified for so few voters. How can this be? If your parents, your siblings and your children could benefit from making the ballot initiatives easier to understand for them, would it then be worth the cost? Is the issue here really the value of the bilingual ballots? Or is the issue our value of the potential voters who speak Spanish?
In America, we talk about assimilation. We talk about inclusion. We talk about the power of diversity. Whether we use the melting pot analogy or the salad bowl, we in Hall County have a chance to put our money where our mouth is.
It’s important to recognize our differences, but we have an opportunity to show that those differences are a sign of our strength instead of an excuse for our divisiveness. When we discuss Latinos, African-Americans, millennials or the homeless, we need to stop talking about those communities as we would talk about alien cultures. They are not some strange, foreign, less valuable peoples. They are a part of our community; a part of our family.
For every vote we bring into the process, we make Hall County better. When we choose to help them, we are helping ourselves.