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Our view: Language should not be barrier to voting

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It's uncomfortable to hear Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie say a 15 percent voter turnout in next week's primary election would be "great." He indicated the more likely outcome will be a 10 percent turnout statewide, which means one in 10 potential voters likely will decide who makes it to the general election in several races.

Ritchie said a small turnout would have one advantage in an election that marks the first use of no-excuse absentee voting. "It gives us a chance to test our system," he said, noting local and state officials will be able to make adjustments before November's general election, if needed.

While low numbers are expected on Aug. 12, some in Rochester are working to make sure all who can vote will have the opportunity. During a Rochester City Council meeting last month, Council Member Sandra Means praised first-year City Clerk Aaron Reeves for helping ensure bilingual election judges will be available at polling places where they might be needed by voters who struggle with English instructions. "We have such a growing diverse population with many languages being spoken and all those voters need to be served," Means said.

Reeves shied away from the praise a bit when asked about the effort, noting the use of bilingual election judges isn't new to Rochester. What is new is the city clerk staff's efforts to coordinate with the Council on Black Minnesotans to make sure any problems during the primary can be remedied before the general election, which could mean recruiting new bilingual judges or making sure the current judges are in the best locations to serve the diverse community. "Generally, our goal is having no conflicts on election day," Reeves said.

Kolloh Nimley, a community program specialist with Council On Black Minnesotans, said she shares the city's goal. Having worked as an Olmsted County and city election judge since 2010, she said the activity helps her stay connected in the political community, which is an opportunity she wants all eligible voters to have. She said she has worked to coordinate efforts with the Chicano Latino Affairs Council, as well as the city and county.


Having election judges that can help smooth out the process for the growing international community in Rochester and the surrounding area is an important goal.

While turnout is expected to be low next week, it would be a shame to hear willing voters left polling places without casting ballots because of a language barrier. With 90 percent of eligible voters expected to skip this important civic opportunity, anyone willing to participate in their legal right to vote should feel invited to do so.

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