Napa County will be required to provide elections material in both English and Spanish, effective immediately, based on recent data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The decision comes as the result of a section of the federal Voting Rights Act, which establishes certain triggers for when a county must furnish information in a foreign language.

Napa is now one of 27 California counties required to publish information in Spanish, said John Tuteur, Napa’s registrar of voters. Several counties are also required to publish in one or more Asian languages, while others print voter information in Native American dialects.

This is the first year the county has been required to publish in a language other than English. Napa was also only one of two counties to be added this year to the list of mandatory bilingual jurisdictions, with Glenn county being the other.

Under the Voting Rights Act, a county is required to publish information in a second language if it meets one of the following criteria:

• If more than 5 percent of that county’s voting-age population belongs to a minority language group that has limited proficiency in English.

• If more than 10,000 voting-age citizens belong to a minority group with limited English proficiency and the percentage of that group possessing less than a fifth-grade education is higher than the national average.

Tuteur said it wasn’t known which criterion triggered the requirement for Napa County, but said his office would be working to ensure that the intent of the Voting Rights Act was satisfied.

“We are ready to comply with the requirement to provide bilingual election material in both English and Spanish,” Tuteur said Wednesday. “We will keep the public informed as we move forward with this program.”

In the decade between official census counts, Napa County’s Latino population grew by roughly 50 percent. 

During the 2010 count, more than 44,000 residents — or 32.2 percent of the county’s population — identified as Hispanic. In 2000, Latinos made up 26.8 percent of Napa County’s population.

In past election cycles, candidates for public office seemed attuned to the potential weight held by Latinos, with most including a Spanish translation of their candidate statement in voter guides.

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To do so, a candidate had to cover the cost of translating the statement — roughly $150 — as well as pay the additional printing charges out of pocket, Tuteur said. 

Now that Napa is required to print bilingual voting information, the county will pay the translation fee and associated costs, Tuteur said. Filing fees will not be increasing as a result of the bilingual requirement, he said.

Tuteur also expects to see a significant increase in postage and printing costs, as the inclusion of Spanish translations will cause ballots and voter guides to be larger.

In all, those costs could increase 25 to 45 percent, Tuteur estimated.

The county’s elections department will have its first go at operating a bilingual election during the June 5 primary election, when three seats on the Napa County Board of Supervisors will be up for grabs.


CORRECTION: The original version of this story has been changed to reflect the correct date of the primary election.

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