Feds will monitor Cochise election
May 17, 2005


 By C.J. Karamargin

Federal election monitors will be in Cochise County today to make sure Spanish speakers do not face problems while voting.
The Justice Department announced Monday that concern about the county's compliance with the Voting Rights Act is prompting the visit, the fifth since last September.
Local officials anticipate the monitors will spend most of their time in Douglas, one of three Cochise County communities going to the polls today.
At issue is the availability of Spanish-speaking poll workers and Spanish-language election materials like ballots, instructions and signs.
By law, "the county is required to provide all election materials in Spanish to the same extent it provides such materials in English," said Eric Holland, a Justice Department spokesman.
Census figures show that the Hispanic population is about 30 percent in Cochise County and close to 90 percent in the border city of Douglas. About 80 percent of the city's approximately 14,300 residents speak Spanish at home.
"It's pretty hard not to find someone who speaks Spanish around here," said City Clerk Letty Rodriguez.
As a result, Rodriguez does not expect voters whose primary language is Spanish to encounter difficulties at the city's six polling places. Spanish-speaking poll workers will be at each of them, she said.
Douglas voters are deciding the fate of 10 city charter changes, including doubling the mayor's current salary of $300 per month. Low interest in the election should make both the voting and the monitoring relatively easy.
"Probably less than 10 percent" of the city's 5,440 voters are expected to cast a ballot, Rodriguez said.
Cochise County Supervisor Paul Newman called Douglas "a true bilingual community," and said he believes the monitoring is a good idea. "As a Democrat in Cochise County I'm always concerned about minority voting rights," he said.
The Justice Department announcement noted that election monitoring will also take place today in Los Angeles; Macon, Miss.; the Brentwood Union Free School District in Suffolk County, N.Y.; and Reading, Pa.
In Arizona, California, New York and Pennsylvania, monitors "will gather information concerning compliance in areas such as the quality and availability of minority language assistance at the polls and treatment of minority language voters," the announcement said.
U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, whose 8th District includes Cochise County, said federal election monitoring is aimed at making sure all citizens have access to the ballot box.
"Under federal law, the Department of Justice may monitor the elections in Arizona to confirm they were fair and properly managed," the Tucson Republican said, calling it "simply a continuation of a practice that has been followed for many years."
Tom Schelling, Cochise County elections director, said the department started paying close attention to elections in Cochise County after more than 15 percent of the county residents who completed the more detailed long form distributed by the Census Bureau five years ago wrote that they had limited proficiency in English.
Schelling expects monitors from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division to spend most of their time in Douglas, but said they might also visit polling places in Benson and Huachuca City. Benson voters are picking a mayor and two members of the City Council; voters in Huachuca City are choosing a mayor and deciding a ballot question on home rule.
Schelling said the Justice Department also monitored county elections last March, November, September and February, and has not notified him afterward of anything that was done wrong or should be changed. "We never get any constructive criticism or anything," he said.
Rodriguez said: "I have to wonder how they can afford to come here from Washington when there's really nothing for them to see. They never follow through."
● Contact reporter C.J. Karamargin at 573-4243 or at ckaramargin@azstarnet.com.