Wyandotte County Election Commissioner Denies Meeting Request from Community
Groups request meeting to discuss expanding language access in elections
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, September 18, 2023
Esmie Tseng, Communications Director, ACLU of Kansas, [email protected]
Melissa Stiehler, Advocacy Director, Loud Light, [email protected]
Itzel Vargas-Valenzuela, Program Coordinator, Advocates for Immigrant Rights and Reconciliation, [email protected]
Justin Gust, VP of Community Engagement, El Centro, [email protected]
KANSAS CITY, KAN. – Ten advocacy, direct service, and other local Wyandotte County organizations are expressing surprise and disappointment after Election Commissioner Michael Abbott denied a meeting to even discuss the growing need for better language access and early voting for the community’s voters.
“We were certainly surprised by this denial, given our shared interest in a strong, healthy democracy with Mr. Abbott,” said Leslie Butsch, Field Organizing Director of the ACLU of Kansas. “It’s not often that this many organizations and community groups come together on an issue and ask for the same thing, so it’s disappointing to see Mr. Abbott decline such a remarkable opportunity to better understand the needs of the community of voters his office serves.”
Mr. Abbott’s response blamed a lack of time for a meeting as his office prepares for this and next year’s elections. His response came about three weeks after an August 24 letter requesting a meeting to discuss Wyandotte County’s significant minority populations’ need for the Wyandotte election office to offer voting materials in languages in addition to English and clarifying his office’s authority under federal election law. The letter was signed by the ACLU of Kansas, Advocates for Immigrant Rights and Reconciliation (AIRR), Cross-Border Network, El Centro, Equality Kansas, Latino Community Network, Loud Light, Mainstream Coalition, MORE2, and the Voter Network.
“Mr. Abbott inherently misunderstands the law, which does not prohibit foreign language election information to citizens in order to enhance their understanding of voting procedures and choices – something that ten other Kansas counties already do,” said Judy Ancel, President of the Cross Border Network for Justice and Solidarity. “Given the evolving needs of the changing community, we urge Mr. Abbott to look at the examples of Shawnee, Haskell, Wilson, and numerous others who have recognized how providing better language access serves their community’s needs, builds trust, increases voter turnout, and boosts election administration.”
“For us, having the ballot in the language a person best understands is protecting their vote,” explained Elizabeth Reynoso, Director of Community Education and Outreach at El Centro. “When the information is not your language and you rely on others to help translate or explain who is on the ballot, there might be bias and influence over your vote. With recent voting laws that were passed, assistance available from non-partisan organizations is even more limited. Voting information and ballots in other languages would help protect citizens’ votes.”
In his response emailed to the letter’s signatories, Abbott claimed he was not authorized to change the ballot language on ballots in Wyandotte County and that his office has previously provided forms when requested.
“It is absolutely within the scope of preparing for this and next year’s elections,” said Ephren Taylor, Kansas City Metro Organizer at Loud Light. “Wyandotte County does not currently meet the federal formula—but that formula represents the floor for access. And we’re hopeful that Mr. Abbott can work proactively to improve access to democracy for all eligible voters in the county.”
Wyandotte County does not currently meet the standard under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act that requires certain jurisdictions to make all election-related information available in languages other than English, if their demographics meet certain formula-based requirements. However, as the letter’s signatories have pointed out, local jurisdictions still unquestionably have the authority to make election materials available in multiple languages, and there is no law or policy prohibiting such action. As current trends of the limited-English proficient population of citizens of voting age make it entirely possible the county would reach the threshold by 2026, the letter urges the Election Office to consider the language access availability and other steps it would need to take now to be in compliance by then.
“Our community is respectfully and clearly saying what we need out loud,” said Aude Negrete Banos, Executive Director of the Latino Community Network. “We are voters of Wyandotte County, and we believe that language access is essential to building a stronger democracy–not just for voters who have limited-English proficiency, but for anyone who simply feels more comfortable in another language. This is for all of us.”
The group of organizations is calling on other Wyandotte County voters and parties interested in the issue to contact Mr. Abbott.
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About the ACLU of Kansas: The ACLU of Kansas is the statewide affiliate of the national American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU of Kansas is dedicated to preserving and advancing the civil rights and legal freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For more information, visit our website at www.aclukansas.org.
About Advocates for Immigrant Rights and Reconciliation: Advocates for Immigrant Rights and Reconciliation supports and empowers the undocumented and immigrant community in the greater Kansas City area. We believe no person should live in fear of being torn apart from their family or home. For more information, you can find us at www.airrkc.org.
About The Cross Border Network for Justice and Solidarity: The Cross Border Network for Justice and Solidarity is a grassroots organization based in Kansas City which recognizes the common interests of working people in the world and builds ties for common action among them. Learn more at www.crossbordernetwork.org.
About El Centro: El Centro is a not-for-profit, welcoming center for Latino immigrants and families whose mission is “strengthening communities and improving lives of Latinos and others through educational, social, and economic opportunities.” For 47 years, El Centro has remained committed to serving Latinos in Wyandotte and Johnson Counties in the areas of early childhood education, community health, economic empowerment, and advocacy and engagement. Learn more at www.elcentroinc.com.
About Equality Kansas: Formerly Kansas Equality Coalition. Equality Kansas was organized by independent LGBTQ Advocacy groups across the state in October 2005. Our mission is to end discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity. We work towards our mission through education, public policy advocacy and political action. For more, visit https://eqks.org/.
About Loud Light: Loud Light engages, educates, and empowers individuals from underrepresented populations to build community power that has an impact on decision makers. We’re transforming Kansas through voter registration, informative videos, coalition building, civic engagement, and youth voter turnout. Learn more at www.loudlight.org.