voting

What Happened With The Spanish Translation Of This Voters’ Guide?

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History demonstrates that democracy is better when more people are included as voters. As we’ve opened the polls to people who were Constitutionally banned from the vote—women, African-Americans, members of Native tribes—America has become a stronger, smarter, more prosperous, and more humane nation. We know that everyone does better when we embrace policies that ensure more people get the vote—and that it should be government’s role to ensure that every adult over the age of 18 makes their voice heard at the ballot box.

Here in Washington, that sacred trust falls to the office of Secretary of State. This means that our current SoS, Kim Wyman, should fight for the voting rights of every last eligible Washington adult.

Today Wyman’s challenger, former Seattle City Councilmember Tina Podlodowski, published a blistering press release accusing Wyman’s office of obfuscating the law in the Spanish-language edition of the state’s 2016 voting rights pamphlet. Here’s the relevant passage:

The English version of the voter’s pamphlet on eligibility reads, “You must be 18 years old, a U.S. citizen, a resident of Washington State and not under Department of Corrections supervision for a Washington State felony conviction.”

The Spanish version reads, “no estar bajo la supervisión del Departamento Correccional a causa de una condena por un delito del estado de Washington”

The literal translation of the Spanish text is “not under the supervision of the Department of Corrections by reason of conviction for an offense in the state of Washington.”

There is a big difference between a conviction for an offense and conviction of a felony.  Washington’s long-standing legal translation of “felony” in Spanish is “delito grave.” The lesser offense of “misdemeanor” is rendered as “delito menor.”

In other words, anyone reading the Spanish-language pamphlet with a misdemeanor on their record could interpret it to mean they don’t get to vote. In fact, this Twitter user says the removal of the word “grave” after “delito” means it could be interpreted as “any misdemeanor or parking ticket” (emphasis mine.)

With this translation Secretary Wyman’s office appears to be doing exactly the opposite of what she’s supposed to do: Rather than creating more opportunities for voters, Wyman’s office might potentially misinform Washington state citizens about their rights as voters.

Even more interesting: the 2014 edition of the pamphlet (PDF) seems to have the correct information. Note the use of “delito grave” in the below screenshot:

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Google Translate turns that text into this:

You have to have at least 18 years of age, be a US citizen, a resident of the State of Washington, and not under the supervision of the Department of Corrections for a felony in Washington.

Which sure seems correct to me. The million-dollar question, of course, is why, if the language was correct in 2014, would Secretary Wyman’s office introduce an error into the text this time around? Isn’t that exactly what the Secretary of State’s office shouldn’t do?

More troubling: this is the latest in a series of problems that have happened under Wyman’s watch. Just today, Washington State Democrats threatened to sue over Pierce County ballots urging voters to mail their ballots by November 4th when the actual deadline is four days later, on November 8th. And at the beginning of this month, Wyman was accused of violating campaign finance laws “by failing to file disclosure reports on time.” All together these three issues, which Wyman’s supporters could singly wave away as minor mistakes, appear to form a more distressing pattern. What’s happening in Kim Wyman’s office? And how long has it been going on? The fact that these three issues came to light when the heat of a campaign is on Wyman leaves me wondering what else might come to light in the last days of the campaign.

Kim Wyman’s Campaign Is A Cautionary Tale

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The Secretary of State’s office is not a particularly sexy one; stop a person on 5th Avenue in Seattle and ask “hey stranger, who’s the Secretary of State?” and they will either name John Kerry or give you a blank stare.

This general lack of enthusiasm and recognition likely would have been beneficial for current Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman in her reelection campaign. Wyman, a Republican, holds a seat that has been (strangely) kept out of the hands of Democrats for nearly 50 years, and she could possibly have sailed into her second term on a hope and a prayer were it not for two key factors:

1.) Her opponent and

2.) Herself.

Way back in January—well before the primaries were even started in earnest—former Seattle City Councilmember and tech-sector leader Tina Podlodowski announced she would be challenging Wyman. Podlodowski’s campaign focused on expanding voting access (one of her first ads featured footage of Wyman saying she would not support the Washington Voting Rights Act), streamlining elections, and saving taxpayers money.

A major part of Podlodowski’s campaign against Wyman has been undermining Wyman’s time in office; she’s cited low voter turnout, a lack of ballot boxes, and the frustration voters felt over the caucus system in the spring. In September, she uncovered a glaring error in the state’s voter database that could have resulted in a data breach—and seemed to pin its existence on Wyman’s inattention.

Podlodowski has turned what might have otherwise been Wyman’s sleepy cruise into incumbency into an actual race. But she’s not even Wyman’s biggest enemy, as the last few days have demonstrated.

Despite netting endorsements from many of the local newspapers, Wyman’s earned media has largely been soured by her own record. After the Everett Herald wrote that she “deserves another term,” Rep. Luis Moscoso wrote in to correct their editorial, stating that “Wyman didn’t step up” on voting rights.

In attempt to turn the tide in her favor last week, Wyman made her first major announcement of the campaign—using the recent, deadly shooting at the Cascade Mall as a springboard, Wyman’s office released a proposal to require identification and proof of citizenship paperwork to register to vote.

“During this past week, questions were raised about the citizenship of Arcan Cetin, who confessed to murdering five people at Cascade Mall in Burlington,” read the release from the SoS’s office. “He registered in 2014 and voted in three elections. On each of those occasions, he affirmed that he was a U.S. citizen and met the other qualifications to be a voter. The penalty of registration and voter fraud is a prison term of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.”

Unfortunately for Wyman, Cetin’s citizenship had been verified just hours before her slated announcement; as a result, the proposal seemed desperate and in poor taste.

Voter ID laws are kind of a conservative (read: racist) dogwhistle—except for the fact that just about everyone can hear them, which means the announcement was sure to turn off some of the moderate folks that Wyman would need to win the entire state. To try to play both sides, Wyman’s announcement was slated as “bipartisan,” and included a provision for automatic voter registration. Unfortunately, that part of the story was quickly buried by all of the rest of it and likely didn’t win anyone over.

And then there’s today’s October surprise—a complaint filed by the Washington Attorney General’s Office alleging numerous instances of campaign finance reporting violations. They aren’t massive and they aren’t especially shady, but they are sloppy. And there are a lot of them.

Which doesn’t exactly bode well, considering the job that Wyman is trying to keep.

Up and down, Wyman has shown that campaigning is not her forte—unfortunately, in an office that oversees campaigns and elections, that seems like a pretty huge problem. Sure, you could say it’s just paperwork, but then what is the job of Secretary of State if not paperwork?

Wyman’s campaign isn’t a complete disaster, but it is a cautionary tale; public disclosure in Washington is watched closely and taken seriously, and paperwork needs to be filed in a timely manner. If Wyman can’t manage to do it on the campaign trail, it’s hard to say if she’ll be able to do it in office.