ARIZONA DAILY STAR
May 17, 2005
Federal election monitors will be in Cochise County today to
make sure Spanish speakers do not face problems while voting.
By C.J. Karamargin
The Justice Department announced Monday that concern about
the county's compliance with the Voting Rights Act is prompting the visit,
the fifth since last September.
Local officials anticipate the monitors will spend most of
their time in Douglas, one of three Cochise County communities going to the
At issue is the availability of Spanish-speaking poll workers
and Spanish-language election materials like ballots, instructions and
By law, "the county is required to provide all election
materials in Spanish to the same extent it provides such materials in
English," said Eric Holland, a Justice Department spokesman.
Census figures show that the Hispanic population is about 30
percent in Cochise County and close to 90 percent in the border city of
Douglas. About 80 percent of the city's approximately 14,300 residents speak
Spanish at home.
"It's pretty hard not to find someone who speaks Spanish
around here," said City Clerk Letty Rodriguez.
As a result, Rodriguez does not expect voters whose primary
language is Spanish to encounter difficulties at the city's six polling
places. Spanish-speaking poll workers will be at each of them, she said.
Douglas voters are deciding the fate of 10 city charter
changes, including doubling the mayor's current salary of $300 per month.
Low interest in the election should make both the voting and the monitoring
"Probably less than 10 percent" of the city's 5,440 voters
are expected to cast a ballot, Rodriguez said.
Cochise County Supervisor Paul Newman called Douglas "a true
bilingual community," and said he believes the monitoring is a good idea.
"As a Democrat in Cochise County I'm always concerned about minority voting
rights," he said.
The Justice Department announcement noted that election
monitoring will also take place today in Los Angeles; Macon, Miss.; the
Brentwood Union Free School District in Suffolk County, N.Y.; and Reading,
In Arizona, California, New York and Pennsylvania, monitors
"will gather information concerning compliance in areas such as the quality
and availability of minority language assistance at the polls and treatment
of minority language voters," the announcement said.
U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, whose 8th District includes Cochise
County, said federal election monitoring is aimed at making sure all
citizens have access to the ballot box.
"Under federal law, the Department of Justice may monitor the
elections in Arizona to confirm they were fair and properly managed," the
Tucson Republican said, calling it "simply a continuation of a practice that
has been followed for many years."
Tom Schelling, Cochise County elections director, said the
department started paying close attention to elections in Cochise County
after more than 15 percent of the county residents who completed the more
detailed long form distributed by the Census Bureau five years ago wrote
that they had limited proficiency in English.
Schelling expects monitors from the Justice Department's
Civil Rights Division to spend most of their time in Douglas, but said they
might also visit polling places in Benson and Huachuca City. Benson voters
are picking a mayor and two members of the City Council; voters in Huachuca
City are choosing a mayor and deciding a ballot question on home rule.
Schelling said the Justice Department also monitored county
elections last March, November, September and February, and has not notified
him afterward of anything that was done wrong or should be changed. "We
never get any constructive criticism or anything," he said.
Rodriguez said: "I have to wonder how they can afford to come
here from Washington when there's really nothing for them to see. They never