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City in ballot language flap

Sample is printed in just two languages, rather than usual four.

March 31, 2013|By Brittany Levine,

Glendale this year has limited the sample ballot that goes out to all voters to just English and Armenian. But critics say officials should have kept with the prior practice of including all four major languages spoken in the city to avoid disenfranchising voters.

For the past two elections, all ballots were translated into English, Armenian, Spanish and Korean. But with 22 people running in the races for city council, city treasurer, city clerk and school board, plus three measures, the size of the ballot this year made a four-language ballot for all voters cost-prohibitive, City Clerk Ardy Kassakhian said.

He pointed out that voters who prefer Spanish- or Korean-language ballots can still request them from the city clerk's office.

Still, City Council members and two Latino candidates have criticized the decision to scale down the ballot, saying that the city was shortchanging minority voters.


"Either you send it out in the four major languages or you don't send it out at all," said Mayor Frank Quintero, complaining from the dais about the issue for the first time this week despite he and his colleagues having received a report about the cost-cutting measure in November.

Councilman Dave Weaver agreed.

Federal voting rights law requires jurisdictions provide election materials in major languages spoken by minorities as determined by the U.S. Census Bureau, but it does not require all materials in every language be mailed to all voters.

"The requirement is, instead, to provide materials in the covered languages to any voter who wants them," said Douglas Johnson, a fellow at the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College.

Johnson added that doing more than that would be too costly.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, which enforces the Voting Rights Act, declined to comment on "specific jurisdictions."

If the ballot had been printed in all four languages, it would have been more than 75 pages, driving up printing and shipping costs, Kassakhian said.

In 2011, the four-language ballot, which featured fewer candidates and measures, was 50 pages. This year's English-Armenian ballot is 32 pages.

Kassakhian noted that before he took over in 2005, only an English ballot was mailed to all voters.

Armenian is not a federally-mandated translation requirement in Los Angeles County, but Armenians are Glendale's largest minority group.

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