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In Washington, More Non-English Ballots Being Mailed Out

Paula Wissel
A ballot drop box outside the Burien library

Starting Wednesday, counties are mailing out ballots in Washington state. Registered voters can expect to receive theirs by the weekend. In King County, more of the ballots going out are in a language other than English. Since 2002, voters in King County have been able to request a ballot in Chinese and, since 2012, in Vietnamese. But this year, for the first time, election materials, including voter pamphlets, are also available in Korean and Spanish.

Kendall Hodson, King County Department of Elections chief of staff, says it’s part of the King County Council's goal of making elections more inclusive. She says the county has worked with 22 community groups to get the word out.

“We have actually done a fair amount of explicit outreach to try to not only get new people registered for those languages, but to let people know that is an option available to them," Hodson said.

Hodson says requests for non English ballots are up 45 percent over the last election. Requests for Chinese and Vietnamese still lead the way. As of October 10, 453 Chinese-language ballots were requested and 521 Vietnamese-language ballots. For ballots in Korean, there were 420 requests and 124 for Spanish-language ballots.

King County has also refashioned its ballot drop boxes to include all four non-English languages spelling out the word "vote" on the outside.

The Federal Voting Rights Act does require counties to print ballots in another language if 10,000 people or 5 percent of the population speak that language and have limited English skills. King County didn’t actually reach that bar with Korean and Spanish, but decided to add them to the ballot anyway.

In Pierce and Snohomish counties, the ballots are only printed in English. A spokesman for Pierce County elections says he expects that to change after new census data comes in.

As far as registering to vote, Washington state gives people the option of signing up in 18 different languages in addition to English.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.