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Friday November 24th, 2017 4:15AM

Anticipated Spanish voting materials did not happen in Hall, still work to do in Gwinnett, group says

By Brian Stewart Reporter

The early returns are mixed, at least according to one Latino activist group, for the newly-implemented bilingual voting materials in Hall and Gwinnett counties.

In Hall County, despite a 2-1 vote in favor of offering the dual-language information by the Hall County Elections Board, the Spanish language voting materials were not offered in the 2017 elections, said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO).

Dr. Tom Smiley, Hall County Elections Board chairman, confirmed that the Spanish materials were not offered in the 2017 election cycle.

GALEO had previously applauded the vote by the Hall County Elections Board.

It's unclear where the idea ultimately came to a halt. Smiley, when reached via email, said the April vote in favor of offering the bilingual materials was non-binding, and that it would be up to the county's administration and board of commissioners to make the final decision, since the elections board has no control over anything budget-related.

Smiley said he was unaware of any plans for implementation in the future.

Hall County Spokeswoman Katie Crumley issued a statement Wednesday afternoon that said: "Funding for bilingual ballots was not approved in the most recent budget. I don’t think I can speculate on what will or will not be funded in the next budget cycle as that’s a matter for the Board of Commissioners."

In Gwinnett County, where elections officials began offering ballots in English and Spanish under a provision of the Voting Rights Act, Gonzalez said the early feedback from Latino residents indicated a positive step, but Gonzalez said more work remained.

County Spokesman Joe Sorenson, however, said no issues were reported to the county elections supervisor.

"For one thing ... the Latino voters we spoke with, they were so appreciative of being able to have ballot information — everything associated with the voting process — in Spanish. They felt more comfortable. They felt welcomed," said Gonzalez when reached by phone Wednesday afternoon.

"They felt more empowered to be able to cast their votes in an informed way."

One issue that arose, Gonzalez said, was a "hurried" process that left incomplete or hard-to-understand translations on voting materials. He said an easy solution would be for local municipalities to incorporate community feedback from the Hispanic communities.

Still, Gonzalez described the overall feedback from Latino voters in Gwinnett as "very positive."

"That's a really good step in the right direction, because ultimately it's about serving the voters," said Gonzalez.

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