Bilingual Voting Assistance:

Assistance Provided and Costs

GGD-97-81: Published: May 9, 1997. Publicly Released: May 9, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed aspects of the implementation of bilingual language provisons of the Voting Rights Act, focusing on: (1) the types of assistance jurisdictions provided for the 1996 general election; and (2) actual cost that covered jurisdictions incurred to provide bilingual voting assistance in 1996 and prior years, if available.

GAO noted that: (1) of the 292 jurisdictions that responded to GAO's survey, 272 reported providing bilingual voting assistance for the 1996 general election; (2) of the 292 respondents, 213 said that they provided both written and oral bilingual voting assistance to their minority language voters, 45 said that they provided written assistance only, 14 said that they provided oral assistance only, and 20 said they did not provide any assistance; (3) with respect to the jurisdictions not providing any assistance, 5 said they tried, but were unable to identify individuals needing assistance, 13 said that no one needed assistance or that no one had ever sought assistance, and 2 believed that they had been exempted from providing assistance; (4) in addition, five jurisdictions and two states reported furnishing bilingual voting assistance to groups that the act did not require them to assist; (5) in addition to assistance provided by jurisdictions, states may also provide assistance, such as translation of state election propositions or translated sample ballots; (6) 12 of the 26 states that responded said that they furnished some bilingual voting assistance; (7) the 14 remaining states reported that they provided no bilingual voting assistance; (8) in addition, some states, such as California (CA) and New Jersey, have adopted their own laws requiring bilingual voting assistance; (9) as the act does not require covered jurisdictions and states to maintain data on the costs of providing bilingual, information provided by the surveyed jurisdictions and states on their costs was scant; (10) of the 272 jurisdictions that reported providing assistance in 1996, 208 were unable to provide information on their costs; (11) of the 64 jurisdictions that reported cost information, only 34 provided information on total costs and the remainder provided partial costs; (12) the 34 jurisdictions' reported costs varied greatly; (13) of the 12 states that provided assistance, only Hawaii and Florida reported their total costs for providing bilingual voting assistance in 1996; (14) Arizona, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, and Rhode Island (RI) reported partial cost data; (15) only 29 jurisdictions and 6 states provided some data on election year costs for 1992 to 1995; (15) moreover, the amounts jurisdictions reported spending on bilingual voting assistance in prior years varied widely; and (16) the amounts states reported also varied by year.

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