Election Day 2014 (copy)

Napa County Registrar of Voters John Tuteur said the county may continue to print bilingual ballots despite the lifting of federal oversight.

J.L. Sousa, Register file photo

Napa County is free of U.S. Department of Justice oversight on how it reaches out to Spanish-only speakers during elections, though that doesn’t necessarily mean the county will stop its bilingual ballot efforts.

County Registrar of Voters John Tuteur attributes the county’s 82 percent Nov. 8 election turnout in part to its Spanish-language outreach. One of his primary responsibilities is to make certain every registered voter can cast a vote in an informed manner, he said.

“We’re sticking with that goal,” Tuteur told the county Board of Supervisors at its Tuesday meeting.

Still, with this and other recent elections developments, Tuteur wants to hear from supervisors and the community. He’s tentatively scheduled a Board of Supervisors election workshop for Feb. 28.

The U.S. Bureau of the Census in 2011 informed Napa County it would have to provide ballot materials in Spanish as well as English. That’s because the mix of limited English proficient voters and educational attainment had triggered Section 203 of the federal Voting Rights Act.

Napa County began providing ballots and elections materials in separate English and Spanish versions. But that didn’t satisfy the Department of Justice.

On May 31, the county and the Department of Justice reached an agreement. Among other things, it called for bilingual ballot materials and bilingual volunteers at voter assistance centers. The federal agency had six monitors in Napa County for the November election.

Federal oversight of Napa County’s bilingual outreach efforts was to last through 2018.

But a few weeks ago, the Bureau of the Census announced Napa County’s demographics no longer made it subject to this Voting Rights Act section. That put in question the status of the county’s Department of Justice agreement.

In a Dec. 16 letter, Department of Justice Voting Section Chief T. Christian Herren, Jr. told the county it is released from its obligations under the May 31 agreement. He also wrote that Napa’s outreach efforts “appeared to be beneficial to a significant number of limited English proficient voters.”

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That leaves the question of what Napa County does next.

“It just happened the Census Bureau said we were in in 2011 and we’re out in 2016,” Tuteur told supervisors. “And, just remember, we could be back in in 2021, the next time this goes around.”

Tuteur has another matter he wants to discuss with the Board of Supervisors and public on Feb. 28.

Napa County’s use of vote-by-mail ballots is about to accelerate even further. About 94 percent of voters used this method in the November 2016 elections, as opposed to getting their ballots at polling places.

California law mandates statewide voting-by-mail for the 2020 elections. Napa County is a designated pilot county for all vote-by-mail ballots in the June 5, 2018 election.

“The Election Division will engage with the Board of Supervisors and the community as we move forward with this new voting process,” Tuteur said.


Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He was worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield. He is a graduate of UC Sa