Holiday Notice: The Office of the Texas Secretary of State will be closed Monday, September 1 in observance of Labor Day. The office will resume normal operating hours of 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tuesday, September 2. Electronic filing and searching of business documents via SOSDirect is available 24/7.
Elections and Voter Information

Voter Information

Election Advisory No. 2011-01

To: All Cities, School Districts, and other Political Subdivisions
From: Ann McGeehan, Director of Elections
Date: April 14, 2011
RE: Bilingual Election Official Requirements for the May Election

This advisory is to remind you of the minority language requirements that apply to elections in Texas.  State and federal laws require all written materials to be translated into Spanish statewide, and require the appointment of bilingual clerks in certain election precincts.  The U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has advised this office that they will continue to closely monitor compliance with these bilingual election requirements to determine compliance in the State of Texas.  Texas election law has required bilingual election materials and bilingual clerks since 1975, and most political subdivisions have readily complied with these requirements.  Below is a summary of minority language election requirements.

Appointment of Bilingual Election Clerks

State law requires the presiding judge of an election precinct to make reasonable efforts to appoint a sufficient number of election clerks who are trained and fluent in both English and Spanish to serve the needs of the Spanish-speaking voters of the precinct.  Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 272.009 (Vernon 2010).  Federal law requires that all assistance relating to the electoral process be provided in English and Spanish.  42 U.S.C. 1973b(f)(4) and 42 U.S.C. 1973aa-1a. (2003).

While state and federal laws contain general mandates concerning the obligation to provide bilingual clerks, these laws do not specify the number of bilingual clerks that must be appointed in each affected precinct.  Our office recommends that in those election precincts, not less than one bilingual election clerk be appointed for each election precinct in which Spanish-surnamed voters comprise five percent (5%) or more of the population of such precinct. 42 U.S.C. 1973b(f)(4) and 42 U.S.C. 1973aa-1a. (2003).  You should note, however, that in some of these affected precincts, one bilingual clerk may not be sufficient to serve the needs of the Spanish-speaking voters, especially in polling locations where precincts are combined, or when new voting machines or other changes are likely to prompt additional questions from voters.  It shall remain the responsibility of the political subdivision to determine in its sole discretion the proper number of bilingual clerks to serve its Spanish-speaking voters. 

Translation of Bilingual Election Materials

Pursuant to state and federal law, all election materials information that is prepared for voters in English must also be provided in Spanish, and any other required minority languages. The bilingual requirement applies to instruction posters, ballots, official affidavits and other forms requiring voter’s signature, early voting materials, and all other election information provided to voters in English. Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 272.005 (Vernon 2003), 42 U.S.C. 1973b(f)(4) and 42 U.S.C. 1973aa-1a. (2003).

Suggestions for Compliance:

Finding bilingual election clerks can be a challenge.  The following suggestions may assist you in recruiting bilingual election clerks:

  • Survey all election workers and your employees to determine who speaks Spanish fluently. It is possible that some of the folks who regularly serve as a clerk in elections are bilingual.
  • Conduct outreach within the Spanish-speaking community.
  • Contact high schools to recruit Spanish-speaking, 18-year-old high school seniors who are registered voters.
  • In Texas, the presiding judge is required to appoint the election clerks.  Please impress upon the affected presiding judges, the requirement to appoint bilingual clerks.

In addition, DOJ offers some advice for complying with the federal Voting Rights Act as follows:

  • Ongoing communication with the language minority community.
  • Use of translators, with a review of translated materials by minority community members.
  • Voter registration outreach targeting members of the minority group, using deputy registrars from the minority community and setting up registration drives in locations frequented by members of that community.  Presence of bilingual poll workers at polling places.
  • Presence of bilingual temporary employee in the office of the election official.
  • Assistance of minority community in identifying precincts with high minority population to assist in locating polling places, identifying which polling locations need bilingual poll workers, and assistance in recruiting and training those poll workers.  Using “targeting” methods to identify precincts that need bilingual assistance is acceptable, rather than automatically adopting the language assistance countywide.
  • Informing public about availability of materials and assistance in the minority language.
  • Keeping records to document actions taken and efforts made to comply.

Lastly, jurisdictions located in El Paso, Harris and Maverick Counties may be required to provide election material in additional minority languages.  Please contact your county elections official if you are located in one of these counties and have any questions about which minority languages are required.

We hope that by reminding you of the state and federal bilingual election requirements, you will be able to appropriately respond to any potential inquiries or monitoring visits by DOJ officials or any other interested party.  If you have any questions about the information in this advisory, please contact the Elections Division at 1-800-252-VOTE(8683).

c:    County Clerks/Elections Administrators (via email)

AM:EHW:id