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Overdue Help At The Polls, Bilingual Aid Will Be Ready At Primaries
Overdue Help At The Polls
September 4, 2002
Our position: Orange and Osceola finally have gotten it right with bilingual poll workers.
Voters will face a lot of changes when they go to the polls next week, deciding primary contests for a slew of local and state races. And for a growing segment of Central Florida's population, those changes should be most welcome.
Elections officials in Orange and Osceola counties, threatened with a federal lawsuit for failing to provide bilingual poll workers, have recruited enough people who speak both English and Spanish to satisfy federal requirements and ensure that Spanish-speaking voters are supported at the polls.
The number of Hispanics has exploded in Orange and Osceola counties in the past 10 years. But poll workers never reflected that diversity. With pressure from the feds, that's now changed. In a democracy, every vote should count. And barring any unforeseen glitches, every vote now will.
Bilingual Aid Will Be Ready At Primaries
Sandra Mathers | ORLANDO SENTINEL
September 3, 2002
Just in time for the Sept. 10 primary election, all three Florida counties cited for violating a federal election law -- including Orange and Osceola -- have met the government's requirements for hiring bilingual poll workers.
Election workers in Orange County say they have signed up 321 Spanish-speaking workers for their 250 precincts -- more than double the number recruited for the 2000 election and more than required by its recent settlement with the U.S. Justice Department.
Osceola also has reached its Justice Department mandate for Spanish speakers. Miami-Dade has surpassed its requirement for providing Creole-speaking workers in precincts that are predominantly Haitian, officials said.
The Justice Department, which enforces the nation's Voting Rights Act, threatened to sue the three counties earlier this year for failing to provide enough bilingual poll workers in the beleaguered 2000 election.
The three counties signed settlement agreements in June.
"Our community is changing," said Orange County Elections Supervisor Bill Cowles. "[The year] 2000 brought to light the Hispanic growth from the census."
Cowles and Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections David Leahy said the ongoing difficulty of recruiting eligible poll workers, especially bilingual ones, was compounded this year by the addition of new precincts statewide.
Poll workers must be U.S. citizens, read and write English and be registered voters. They are paid varying amounts by the county, ranging from $87 per day for a poll worker in Miami-Dade to $150 per day for a poll clerk in Orange County. Poll clerks are the top election official in their precincts.
While the number of Hispanics in Orange County increased by 159 percent -- from nearly 65,000 in 1990 to about 168,000 in 2000 -- only 158 of the more than 2,000 poll workers in the 2000 election were Hispanic, Cowles said.
As of last week, Cowles said, his office has recruited 321 Spanish-speaking poll workers -- 39 more than the Justice Department settlement required.
Osceola, with the most dramatic increase in Hispanics in Central Florida, has hired 125 Spanish-speaking poll workers for its 93 precincts -- 22 more than required, said Elections Supervisor Donna Bryant.
Workers not assigned to a precinct will be used as backups for the high-turnover election-day jobs, officials said.
Despite a Hispanic population increase of 294 percent -- from 12,866 in 1990 to 50,727 in 2000 -- only 22 Spanish-speaking poll workers were hired for the 2000 election, an Osceola election official said.
Bryant said ballots in Spanish were not required in Osceola for the 2000 election, based on its 10-year-old population figures. She introduced ballots in Spanish last year.
"From what I see, [elections officials] have been doing a big effort to reach out to bilingual workers," said Dalis Guevara, a bilingual occupational therapist for the Osceola County School Board and a first-time poll worker in Kissimmee this year.
"Hispanics complained to me, saying they couldn't properly vote [in 2000] because nobody there spoke Spanish," said Guevara, who is among a large group of Puerto Ricans who live in Osceola County. "Voting is completely different in Puerto Rico."