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Translation bill raises candidate's ire

Cost for foreign-language version of ballot statements is $450 this year.

February 16, 2011|By Joe Piasecki, joe.piasecki@latimes.com

In letters to La Cañada Flintridge City Hall and the Valley Sun, City Council candidate Robert Richter objects to a city requirement that candidates cover the cost of translating their ballot statements into Spanish and Korean.

Richter complains that a $450 fee for translating his optional statement from English doubles the cost of inclusion on the ballot. He argues that candidates should be able to choose whether to benefit from their statements being available in other languages.

La Cañada Flintridge City Hall had previously subsidized translation costs. In November, City Council members voted to change the fee policy as part of a series of resolutions declaring the March 8 election.

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City Clerk Sylvia Baca said translation costs arise from the hiring of court-certified interpreters to craft statements in languages that would serve significant voter populations or are requested by voters through the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s Office.

As ballot statements are optional, charging candidates, rather than taxpayers, the full cost of publishing them in all languages is standard practice in most cities, said Baca and Robert Stern, an expert on local elections and president of the nonprofit Center for Governmental Studies.

An interpretation of the federal Voting Rights Act by the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division states that candidate statements must appear in all applicable languages or not at all.

“The requirements of the law are straightforward: all election information that is available in English must also be available in the minority language so that all citizens will have an effective opportunity to register, learn the details of the elections, and cast a free and effective ballot,” reads a statement on the division’s website.

That language also appears in the city’s March 8 sample ballot.

But Richter, a native German speaker, also says he isn’t happy with the translations or how they are presented.

“On the ballot, it states I voluntarily provided a statement and voluntarily bear the cost, which is untrue. I did not provide a statement in Spanish and Korean,” said Richter, who also believes the statements may contain inaccurate interpretations of his employment history.

Ballot statement costs aren’t the only point of conflict that Richter has had with City Hall.

Richter was late to file required campaign disclosure documents, which he said was an oversight.

Though Richter said he is not actively seeking political contributions, he was required in January to file a statement that he will spend less than $1,000 on his campaign. He filed it Tuesday.

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