‘English-only law’ faces possible legal battle from LULAC

An Iowa law from 2002 requires all official political papers to be printed in only English.
Published: Oct. 1, 2021 at 10:07 PM CDT
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Iowa (KWQC) - As elections are just days away now, LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens, may be looking to pursue legal action against the Iowa Secretary of State.

An Iowa law from 2002 declared Iowa’s main language as English, requiring all official political papers to be printed in only that language. LULAC Iowa State Director Nick Salazar says that leads to not every voice being heard. “What that means is that folks feel that they are not included in the democratic process- folks who may not be as fluent, others may not understand the process. There’s always changing laws changing provisions, and so they may not know what these new laws mean,” says Salazar. “When folks cannot participate in the process or if there’s a lot of barriers, we see a lot of folks who get apathetic towards the process, and you know they walk away and they don’t get to participate.”

LULAC asked Paul Pate, the Secretary of State for clarification on the English-only law, as Salazar says there was some confusion. He explains some auditors were unsure if paperwork printed in languages other than English was permitted, and even some tried to do it in the past.

Only two counties in Iowa, Buena Vista and Tama are allowed to translate their election materials because of the high number of Spanish-speaking and indigenous residents.

Per Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, minorities with a history of exclusion from the voting process (more than 10,000 residents or over 5 percent of voting-age citizens) shall be provided with translations for their language.

the State Data Center estimates there are more than ten languages spoken in Iowa homes. Plus, Latinos are the fastest-growing ethnic group. Salazar says that’s a motivating factor for trying to get equal access to voting registration forms in languages besides English.

“In Iowa, a lot of people think that it’s mainly white rural areas. But the reality is that we have a very diverse state, especially with our growing Latino Spanish-speaking population. So, it’s very important that not only that we include in every other aspect of our community in our society. So, they can properly engage with the government and be informed of all these different issues.”

TV6 reached out to the Iowa Secretary of State who says the office is still under an injunction from a 2008 court decision brought on by former representative Steve King, preventing the dissemination of official voter registration forms in languages other than English.

“My office has conducted numerous outreach efforts with the Spanish speaking community to help them understand Iowa’s election laws and deadlines. That includes ads on TV, radio and print, as well was working with the Iowa Office of Latino Affairs.  My office will continue extensive outreach efforts to Iowa voters, including this year ahead of the city/school elections,” wrote Secretary Paul Pate.

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