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.

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.