Bill Would Change Rules for Non-English Mail-In Ballots

Mar 18, 2013

Lawmakers are looking at a bill today that would change the requirements for mail-in ballots in Harris County. The county would no longer need to send out ballots in a language other than English, unless it’s requested by the voter.

The Harris County clerk says it costs a lot to print and send mail-in ballots to eligible voters. That’s because the county must print ballots in four languages: English, Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese.

Republican State Representative Gary Elkins wants to change that. The Houston lawmaker has filed a bill that would have the Secretary of State change how voters request ballots by mail. They’d have to ask for it in one of those languages. Otherwise they would receive it only in English.

"The advantages are multiple," said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart. "Savings to the taxpayer in what it costs us to run the office, savings to the taxpayer in what it costs him to mail it back when it’s a long ballot. And lets it be less confusing for the voter to be able to vote in the language of their choice."

Some Democrats don’t like the idea at all. They worry it could keep minority voters from being able to vote.  

"I do think there’s a risk of disenfranchising non-English speaking voters, particularly those who are used to voting on a ballot that’s printed in their primary language," said Keir Murray, a Houston Democratic political consultant.

Both Stanart and Murray say more voters have been requesting mail-in ballots in Harris country because of its aging population. Stanart says last presidential election, the county mailed about 90,000 ballots.

If the bill becomes law, it will be subject to a review by the Department of Justice to make sure minority voting rights are not being affected.