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LULAC prepares for lawsuit on Iowa's 'English-only' voting law

All political documents in Iowa are required to be in English, with the exception of voting materials in two counties. LULAC claims that disenfranchises voters.

SCOTT COUNTY, Iowa — Iowa's chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) is preparing for a lawsuit over the state's so-called "English-only" laws. 

Currently, the state follows guidance from the 2002 Iowa English Language Reaffirmation Act, which mandates all official state documents be written in English. Following a lawsuit on the act, by Republican U.S. Representative Steve King in 2007, all but two counties in Iowa extend that law to include all voting materials as well. 

Only Buena Vista and Tama Counties are allowed to translate election materials, due to their high populations of Hispanic and Indigenous Peoples, respectfully.  

Back in July, LULAC petitioned Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate for a declaratory order about the law, asking for clarity on three key points: 

  1. May county auditors outside of Buena Vista County accept and use the official Spanish-language versions of the State of Iowa Official Voter Registration Form and the State of Iowa Official Absentee Ballot Request Form? 
  2. Must county auditors in all Iowa counties accept and use the official Spanish-language version of the National Mail Voter Registration Form? 
  3. May county auditors outside of Buena Vista county accept and use the official Spanish-language version of the State of Iowa Official Absentee Ballot Request Form? 

You can view the full petition here

Tuesday, Sept. 28 marks 60 days since the petition was submitted. If Secretary Pate doesn't respond by then, it opens the door for LULAC to sue. 

"This is a fight for our community," said Joe Henry, LULAC Iowa's Political Director. "We're asking Secretary Pate to do the right thing, which is guaranteed under federal law. If he does not, then we will need to go to court and argue our positions there." 

Voting materials - all which must be in English - cover a broad range of resources in Iowa. Currently, everything from ballots to voting instructions, voter registration, absentee ballots and more are all only available in English. 

"This is holding our community hostage. This has been going on since 2008," Henry said. "We need to ensure our right to vote. That's what our petition was about." 

Iowa's Latino population is estimated to be over 189,000 people, as of 2017, making it the state's largest race or ethnic minority.  

"Over the last 10 years, our community has grown by leaps and bounds, and the amount of registered voters has more than tripled in our community. Our voice has been amplified," Henry said. "Democracy cannot be done when you're suppressing the vote. When you're limiting the ability to understand your right to vote." 

In a statement to News 8, Iowa Secretary Pate responded: 

“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.”

Secretary Pate's office says it's still under injunction from the 2008 decision led by Rep. King's lawsuit from the year prior. From that, state officials say they are prevented from disseminating official voter registration forms in any language but English. 

Kevin Hall, Secretary Pate's communication director, adds, "LULAC is aware of that fact. They openly recognized it in their own petition." 

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This story has been updated with further information from Secretary Pate's office.

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