The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday October 20th

Effects of Bilingual Ballots Not Yet Determined

But Orange County Board of Elections Director Carolyn Thomas said the board does not know how the bilingual ballot instructions affected voter turnout in Nov. 6's election because it does not calculate the numbers of Hispanics who vote.

"We won't start keeping those numbers until 2002," Thomas said.

Thomas added that the mayoral and Carrboro Board of Aldermen ballots were not in Spanish. Instead, there were Spanish instructions posted inside the booth, telling people how to vote.

"The entire bond ballot was in Spanish, though," she said. "We have never done this before."

Alderman-elect John Herrera said he thinks the bilingual ballot made a big difference in his election.

Herrera's election marks the first time a first-generation Latino immigrant has held a position in municipal government in North Carolina in recent memory.

Each voter received three different ballots when voting -- one for the municipal government, one for school board and one for the $75 million bond.

"It can be confusing when you get three colors of paper, you don't know," Herrera said. "It did help get me elected."

Herrera added that it is important for minorities to have a good experience at the voting booths. "People take a lot of time to go vote," he said. "It is frustrating to not know what you are doing when you go to the voting booths."

But other members of the Hispanic community questioned the effectiveness of the bilingual ballot.

Jacques Menache, owner of El Chilango restaurant in Carrboro, said he thinks the majority of Hispanic voters already speak fluent English.

"I don't know anyone who voted who didn't speak perfect English," Menache said. "It is useful to have bilingual translation, since you never know who will go vote, but people who don't speak English don't tend to exercise that right."

But Herrera still contends that many Spanish-speaking and English-speaking Hispanic populations did vote, playing a big role in his being elected. "It is very encouraging that folks will participate when they know what they are doing," Herrera said.

Both Herrera and Menache said they think bilingual ballots should be at every level of U.S. government. "It is a basic service that we should provide for those citizens," Herrera said. "It encourages all minorities to get involved in government."

Menache agreed that Spanish voting instructions are helpful but also said they are not a long-term solution. "Once you are an American citizen, and you have the right to vote, you should vote in English."

The City Editor can be reached at citydesk@unc.edu.

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