Increased federal scrutiny of the electoral process in the upcoming presidential election has Lubbock County officials scrambling to find up to 269 Spanish-speaking election clerks by November.
Elections Administrator Dorothy Kennedy was notified Thursday of the new bilingual clerk requirements in a memo from Texas Secretary of State Geoffrey Connor.
Training and staffing that number of election workers could cost as much as $27,000.
However, County Commis sioner James Kitten said he was less worried about the cost and more worried about the county’s ability to find that many election workers before November.
“Over the past few years, getting workers has been difficult to start with,” he said. “That’s the big issue. You can’t really have an election without workers.”
Although Texas has required bilingual election materials and bilingual clerks for nearly 30 years, the state never specified how many bilingual clerks should be in each precinct, according to a copy of Connor’s memo obtained by The Avalanche-Journal.
The memo, which was sent to election administrators in every Texas county, recommended at least one bilingual clerk for each voting precinct in which voters with Spanish surnames constitute at least 5 percent of the population.
According to the state’s formula, Lubbock County must assign three bilingual clerks to 19 precincts, two bilingual clerks to 22 precincts and one bilingual clerk to another 22 precincts.
Kennedy will assign the remaining 146 workers to “take care of the other precincts that don’t hit the 5 percent threshold,” she said.
Connor’s urgency stemmed from the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision to spotlight Texas’ compliance with bilingual election requirements, according to the memo.
“In light of the controversy surrounding the 2000 presidential election, the 2004 general election will be examined very closely,” Connor wrote. “DOJ has given us advance notice that bilingual election clerks will be one of the election issues that they will be monitoring closely.”
According to Kennedy, federal officials might be assigned to observe the vote in Lubbock County.
One complaint raised during the 2000 election was the lack of Spanish-speaking election workers, especially in Florida, Kennedy said.
Election officials across the country acknowledge, though, that the problems in Florida could have happened anywhere, she said.
“We just don’t want it in Lubbock County,” she said. “We want no problems with elections (here).”
Kennedy said she met with Kitten and County Judge Tom Head to apprise them of the recommendations made by the secretary of state. Kennedy’s office will pay for the workers by adjusting the seasonal employees budget.
No federal or state money will be available to help with the costs of training and staffing the workers, she said.
The funding request comes less than two months after Kennedy told commissioners she will need more than $800,000 to pay for electronic voting machines to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act.
Kennedy said she was concerned most about finding enough bilingual volunteers, vetting them and training them in time for the November election.
“We’re making a very urgent appeal now (for Spanish-speaking volunteers),” she said. “By the time we get names, make sure they’re registered to vote, and, by the time training is done, November will be here.”
Four people in the elections office speak Spanish and will be able to evaluate each volunteer’s linguistic proficiency.
“There’s no way an election can be pulled off without the community,” Kennedy said. “Here we are going back to the community asking for help now.”