Wondering about that sample ballot?

John Asahara, a Reno resident since 1997, voted Tuesday at the Washoe County voter registration office as part of the county’s early-voting program. He said the new system was a struggle.

John Asahara, a Reno resident since 1997, voted Tuesday at the Washoe County voter registration office as part of the county’s early-voting program. He said the new system was a struggle.

Photo By David Robert

Some Nevada voters went to early voting without ever seeing a sample ballot. That’s because the Nevada Legislature extended voter registration (RN&R, July 29) by 10 days, ending 20 days prior to the election but only three days before early voting began.

Since the voter registration list is also the sample ballot mailing list, there was no way to get sample ballots to voters before early voting started.

“Due to the … cut-off now down to 20 days prior to Election Day, leaving only three days between the close of registration and the beginning of early voting, the tremendous number of new registrants—in Washoe County approximately 27,000 more voters than just 22 months ago—and the amount of new information we had to … include in the sample ballot for the voters regarding voting on touch-screen machines, we simply could not get them out any sooner,” Washoe County Voter Registrar Dan Burk said.

This also means that some citizens voted without having a chance to read the instructions for the new machines.

All these problems may mean a decline in the percentage of citizens using early voting, since the reminder of the start of early voting printed on the sample ballot helped fuel its use in the past. Burk, however, predicts that a new record for early-voting turnout in a primary election will be set this year.

In staggered mailings as they were finished, Republican sample ballots went out on Aug. 19 and 20, Democratic on Aug. 20 and 21, and non-partisan on Aug. 23.

For some of those who did receive their sample ballots, there were other problems.

Emma Sepulveda’s Washoe County sample primary ballot is filled with underlines, knockdowns and strikethroughs made with a felt pen. The feisty professor of foreign languages and literature at the University of Nevada, Reno has marked dozens of grammatical errors, incorrect conjugations and incorrect words in the Spanish portion of her ballot. She’s appalled.

“What we need to find out is who did this translation and how much we taxpayers paid for it,” she said. “Why didn’t they contact the university for a translation? We could have done it correctly and done it pro bono [for free].”

The Spanish translation doesn’t just include poorly translated text, she says, but some information is omitted—like the page “10 things to remember for the 2004 primary election,” which includes such information as the date, the times that polls are open, deadlines for absentee voters and information about early voting.

“Of course it disenfranchises Latino voters. If we are going to do this, we must do it right, not to just make ourselves feel better, to appear that we are doing the right thing.”

After reading her sample ballot, Sepulveda worries about what the November election translation will be like—particularly the phrasing of the ballot questions.

“These are very difficult [concepts] for English speakers,” she said. “How are Spanish speakers supposed to understand this kind of translation?”

Washoe County Registrar of Voters Dan Burk said the translations were done by a professional translator and a University of Nevada, Reno graduate student. He said the translations cost about $2,000.

Burk was plainly aggravated by the complaints. He pointed out that Spanish speakers from different locales may have different interpretations.

“We simply tried to do the right thing to reach out to a segment of the population, and this is what we get,” he said. There will also be bilingual workers at the polls and at the registrar of voters office.

If anything compromised the translation, it was the shortened time brought about by the lengthened registration period, Burk said.

“We simply ran out of time," he said. "If somebody wants to help us to improve the process, by all means, they should call me."