Kansas voter guidelines are different, and wrong, in Spanish

Another week, another new and creative way for Kansas to make it harder for minority populations to vote.

As Daily Kos contributor Chris Reeves flagged last week, Kansas’s Spanish-language voter guide isn’t quiiiiiiite a direct translation from its English counterpart.

In fact, voters using the Spanish guide could very easily be misled into missing the state’s voter registration deadline.

As Reeves noted, the English version of the voter guide (backed up by what you are told if you call a county clerk’s office) says that the voter registration deadline is 21 days before the election in question. However, at the time of his writing, the Spanish-language materials said that, “la persona debió haber sido registrada al menos 15 días antes de le elección siendo residente al momento de registro.”

You don’t have to be fluent in Spanish to see that “15” is, um, different than “21.” Spanish-speaking voters were being told that the deadline was six days later than it actually was. Prior research has shown that interest in registering to vote spikes less than a week before the deadline, meaning that Kansas could have effectively created a window where interest in registering to vote was both at its highest and impossible at the same time.

That wasn’t all, though. In addition to the wrong voter registration deadline, Kansas’s Spanish-language voter guide also omitted the fact, included in the English version, that passports are acceptable forms of voter ID.

The online version of the Spanish-language guide has since been corrected, and the Kansas Secretary of State’s office has told the media that they are working to correct printed materials as well.

Reeves is not impressed, and with good reason:

Kris Kobach, via Wikimedia Commons

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, via Wikimedia Commons

Determining if this was incompetency or malevolence by the Kansas Secretary of State’s office will not address the real problem: that for some time, Kansans have worked off of clearly bad information. The publication of documents certainly show that not all Kansans are treated equal — as errors on the English language side obviously did not occur, implying that at a minimum, more attention was paid to English language documents. The documents have remained on the front page of the Secretary of State’s website for some time, incorrect, while being published and relayed in a form that is also incorrect.

One would think that translating a document from English to Spanish would be fairly straightforward. Even if it wasn’t, one would think that translating the numerals “21” to “21” would be simple enough. And while the Kansas Secretary of State’s office is chalking the difference up to an “administrative error,” everything we know about how that office operates suggests that the direction of the error has ideological and electoral implications.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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