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Alfonso H. Lopez, a Democrat, represents Arlington in the Virginia House of Delegates.
Election Day is fast approaching. Given the razor-thin majorities in control of Congress, the results of just a few elections in Virginia could have national ramifications.
Unfortunately, it has become clear that the responsibility to provide clear, accurate and updated election information to Virginia voters who aren’t fluent in English remains an afterthought for Virginia’s Department of Elections and the administration of Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R).
After receiving a number of complaints last month concerning the quality of Virginia’s online election information, my office and I went through each page of the Virginia Department of Elections’ Spanish-language website and were shocked to discover careless errors and glaring mistakes littered throughout.
A few of the issues seemed like simple typos, easily excused by human error. However, several of the Spanish-language webpages had important election information that hadn’t been translated into Spanish — that is, the pages had English sentences interspersed throughout the otherwise Spanish text.
The most problematic and disconcerting errors we found were the ones that gave voters blatantly incorrect or outdated election information, sometimes up to three years old. Also, candidates’ lists and election information in Spanish for military and other overseas voters still referred to elections from 2020 and 2021.
With only a few weeks left before the Nov. 8 election, I wrote to Youngkin and the Department of Elections and urged them to correct these problems with all due haste. It is unacceptable for our commonwealth to allow even a single Virginia voter to be misled or misinformed because of errors on the part of their state government.
Within a week, I received a reply from the Department of Elections noting that several of the examples we brought forward had been addressed. But even now, a few days from Election Day, the Spanish website for the Virginia Department of Elections continues to display a number of issues.
Webpages for information on early voting and decennial redistricting are still completely absent on the Department of Elections’ Spanish website; websites for campaign filings and candidate bulletins still reference elections from 2021 or 2019; and a significant number of documents linked on the Spanish website are still written entirely in English.
Again, just a few of these issues could be waved away as simple mistakes. But taken together, these problems collectively paint a dim and fairly distressing picture of the state of language access in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
These errors are classic examples of the kinds of basic cultural blind spots that haunt government agencies when departments are not intentional enough about hiring linguistically diverse staff or when those departments fail to fully anticipate the effect of their work on residents who are not fluent in English.
As we witnessed during the height of the coronavirus pandemic — when Hispanic Virginians, facing infection rates five-times higher than White non-Hispanics, became Virginia’s ethnic community most likely to get infected and subsequently die from the disease — blind spots of this kind can have deadly and catastrophic results.
In a commonwealth where more than half a million residents primarily speak Spanish in the home, it is unconscionable for state agencies to continue to endorse inaccurate election information only days out from Election Day.
Voting is the most fundamental of political rights, and every state has an overriding duty to provide clear and correct voter information to its citizens. The failure of the Youngkin administration to ensure that all citizens, regardless of their primary language or ethnic background, have the same access to correct voter information says a great deal. If intentional, the actions are shameful. If a thoughtless oversight, it says a great deal about the value his administration places on New Americans and Latinos.


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