The Latino population in North Carolina is growing rapidly, now representing more than 1 million people in the state. But the state still hasn’t met the threshold to be part of a federal provision of the Voting Rights Act that provides limited-English speakers with poll assistance in the language they speak.
The Census Bureau collects citizens’ information yearly through the American Community Survey to protect limited-English-speaking communities’ voting rights. The language provision of the Voting Rights Act was introduced as an effort to facilitate election information to limited-English speaking citizens. States and political subdivisions that are part of the provision are obligated to "provide registration or voting notices, instructions, assistance, or other materials or information" in the applicable language.
Some political juristictions in states like California and Florida are part of the federal mandate, but North Carolina isn’t since it doesn’t meet the requirements. Even though Spanish is the second most spoken language in the state, North Carolina isn’t required by law to provide voting assistance in the language.
James Whitehorne, Chief of the Redistricting and Voting Rights Data Office at the Census Bureau, says there are two criteria that need to be met.
"The first is that the proportion of limited-English-proficient voting-age citizens of any given language minority group to the overall number of voting-age citizens in the state is greater than 5%," Whitehorne explains. "The second criteria is that the illiteracy rate, as measured by educational attainment, for the limited-English-proficient voting-age citizens of the same language minority group is higher than the national illiteracy rate."
There have been concerns about Latino communities being undercounted in the census data before, which can lead to a lack of voting information for limited-English speaking citizens throughout the state.
Joselle Torres, the communications manager at Democracy North Carolina, says that since the state isn’t obligated by the census to provide materials in Spanish, it could be stopping voters from getting the help they need.
"Is it truly that representation? Or is it a number that isn't necessarily a totality? Because folks might not feel comfortable filling out the census or folks might not feel comfortable voting."
The most recent addition of states in the language provision was based on the 2015 to 2019 American Community Survey.
This story was produced by a partnership between WFDD and La Noticia. You can read this story in Spanish at La Noticia.
Eileen Rodriguez is a reporter for both WFDD and La Noticia through Report for America, where she covers COVID-19's impact in the Latino Communities.
Periodista de La Noticia y 88.5 WFDD, Eileen Rodríguez reporta el impacto de COVID-19 en la comunidad Latina en Carolina del Norte. Rodríguez es miembro del cuerpo de periodistas de Report for America 2021-2022