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Utah's English-only law that two weeks ago temporarily brought down a state Web site for including Spanish translations has struck again - this time prompting state officials Monday to call a halt to offering voter information in Spanish.
In preparation for the state's first election using touch-screen electronic voting machines, the state Election Office sent out 100,000 slick, full-color "Vote: Leave Your Print" pamphlets that explain how to use the new devices.
The instructions are in English on one side and on the other, "Vote: Deje Su Huella" gives the instructions in Spanish. The translation includes a pep talk on voting from Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert to "Estimado amigo(a)."
Federal election law requires voter-education material be translated into languages spoken by a significant portion of voters, said Herbert chief of staff Joe Demma. "We do it to comply [with federal law]. We just want to cross our 't's and dot our 'i's."
But government translations to benefit foreign speakers riles many immigration reform advocates.
"You can't vote unless you are a citizen. You can't be a citizen unless you speak English," says Phyllis Sears, a St. George anti-illegal immigration activist. "What are we doing printing voting material for people who can't vote?"
The ambiguous federal rules, Demma said, require voter information translated into languages spoken by at least 5 percent of a voting district's voters.
Utah estimates about 11 percent of the state's residents are Latino, while the Spanish-speaking population is estimated (in 2000 data) at about 7.5 percent. But how many of those 150,000 Spanish speakers qualify as voters is difficult to determine, Demma said. "It's better when dealing with the federal government to err on the side of caution."
But if Utah has less than 5 percent Spanish-speaking voters, the federal translation requirement is not "triggered," Demma said.
In that case, the pamphlets could violate Utah's 2000 English as the official language law, which limits government translations to issues of heath and safety, education and tourism.
The law makes an exception for translations required by federal programs in which the state participates.
That seems to put the Spanish-language pamphlets in limbo between federal and state law, Demma acknowledged when first contacted.
But later Monday, Demma shifted gears and announced that the Elections Office would produce no further Spanish translations unless ordered to do so by the U.S. Department of Justice.
"We did it in a good-faith gesture to the feds because we are using their money on this," he said, referring to federal funds allocated by the Help America Vote Act. "But because of the ambiguity on whether Utah meets that second language trigger, we are going to wait until we are notified by [the U.S.] Department of Justice.
Demma explained that the pamphlet was designed a year ago, before immigration had become a sensitive issue and officials assumed federal law would require Spanish.
"It was not some sort of conscious defiance of the [English-only] law," Demma said. "It was not done for malicious intent."
The halt in voter information translations follows Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s review of a state information Web site that had been taken down following complaints that it violated the state English-only law. The site, http://www.espanol.utah.gov, contained 10 pages of translation into Spanish.
Huntsman allowed health programs, driver licenses and housing discrimination information to be posted in Spanish on the state site.
Information in Spanish about libraries or paying taxes has been banned.