OLYMPIA – After state Democrats threatened to sue, Secretary of State Kim Wyman said Monday that she’ll send an additional 136,000 letters to voters in response to an inexact translation in voter pamphlets that could have led some to think they were not qualified to vote.
Wyman’s decision came after an attorney representing the Washington State Democratic Central Committee wrote that Wyman’s previous decision last week to send letters to 647 voters who were potentially affected was not enough.
Wyman said she already had already distributed the corrected translation to public libraries that received the Spanish language voter guide, also demanded by Democrats in their letter Monday.
“We are always going to do what’s in the interest of our voters,” she said.
To vote in Washington state, residents must be 18, a U.S. citizen and state resident, and not under Department of Corrections supervision for a Washington felony. Those convicted of a misdemeanor are still eligible to vote.
While the English-language pamphlet makes the felony element clear, the Spanish version translated felony as “delito,” which means “crime.” The state has previously used a more precise translation for felony, “delito grave.”
On Friday, Wyman had said she was sending 647 letters to voters who have been convicted of a misdemeanor and are still under the supervision of the Department of Corrections. Wyman’s office said that only six voters who received a bilingual voter pamphlet were in that category, but the office wanted to ensure all were reminded of their rights. A spokesman for the office said the six voters within the group that might be misled were in the three counties that receive bilingual pamphlets – Franklin, Adams and Yakima.
Those letters, in both English and Spanish, note that “grave” was omitted from their voter pamphlets.
“This omission may lead some voters to believe that they are not eligible to vote in the upcoming election,” the letter reads. “We have included the correct translation and apologize for any confusion this may have caused.”
The letter sent by Democrats Monday notes the steps Wyman has taken, but says they “fall far short of what is necessary to correct this frankly egregious error.”
The pamphlets had recently received an updated translation, and Wyman’s office said that the omission of the important modifier wasn’t caught by county elections officials or the office’s own minority outreach person. Rick Antezana, a partner at Seattle-based Dynamic Language, said that error has been corrected within their database “so that it can never happen in the future.”
“We certainly feel bad about it and we want to make sure that anything that can be done will be done,” he said. “It was an honest mistake.”
Wyman, who is in the midst of a tough re-election bid against Democrat Tina Podlodowski, said that the threats from state Democrats were “political gamesmanship.”
In a written statement, state Democratic Party Chairman Jaxon Ravens said that it was an “outrage that it took the threat of legal action to get Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman to provide accurate voting eligibility requirements for Spanish-speaking voters.”
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