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KC grassroots group knocks down language barrier for LatinX voters

voters helping voters.png
Posted at 10:32 PM, Oct 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-19 00:19:56-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Latino voters prefer to vote in person because they think their vote is more likely to be counted – but express they don’t have enough information, according to the Voter Participation Center. And one Kansas City, Missouri, woman saw that need first hand.

What started out as Malia Hatley’s effort to register and educate voters in underserved communities quickly turned into a fight for equality at the polls for Latinos in Kansas City.

"What we started to learn is that those people feel like a neglected part of this process and this community,” said Hatley, with Voters Helping Voters. “That everybody else got to vote and do all these things, and nobody was speaking their language and addressing their needs and saying here's how you do this in a language you understand."

Voters Helping Voters volunteers, according to Hatley, realized there was a need for a Spanish ballot-request form.

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Ballot information in Spanish.

"After a few calls with some weird answers, I called back one day and they are like, 'OK, listen. There is not a large enough Spanish-speaking population in the state of Missouri for us to legally have to make that document available,'" Hatley said.

So Hatley decided to create it herself. She combined efforts with the Guadalupe Center to tap into the Latino community, and then the local League of Women Voters.

"I answered the phone a lot and answered their questions a lot,” Calvert said.

Just like that, the push to implement the Spanish language on voter registration documents and the Missouri ballot request form began.

Ballot Request Form in Spanish.jpg
Ballot request form in Spanish.

After raising $3,000 through a GoFundMeeffort to hopefully translate the documents herself, Hatley learned the Kansas City Board of Election could accept a form in Spanish if one was created.

“Their biggest concern was they needed to make sure they had people once they received the forms that could read them, whether they knew Spanish or not,” Hatley said.

The form is a combination of English and Spanish, so a person who speaks Spanish can request a ballot and a volunteer who speaks English can provide their ballot.

Andres Chaurand, community affairs coordinator for the Guadalupe Center, said 1 million Latinos turn 18 every year, meaning 1 million possible registered voters.

"We are not the minority anymore," Chaurand said.

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A representative for the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office confirmed Hatley's statement regarding the lack of Spanish-language forms. The representative said such forms in Missouri are "really unnecessary because federal forms on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission website are sufficient and available in 15 different languages, including Spanish.”

Important Dates Flyer Spanish
Important dates flyer in Spanish.

After checking, 41 Action News located a voter-registration form in Spanish but not a Missouri Ballot Request form.

Anne Calvert, diversity, equity and inclusion team leader with the League of Women Voters of Kansas City, Jackson, Clay & Platte Counties, said she believes that is "part of voter suppression."

"I think that it's unconscionable,” Calvert said. “I think it's terrible."

Similarly, Hatley said it was "ridiculous and rather offensive."

"I don't care how many Spanish-speaking people we have, this was not a hard thing to do,” Hatley said. “You can pay your water bill in Spanish. You can go to the ATM in Spanish. You can do everything in Spanish, should you choose in this world anymore, but not this."

Now, with a sign that reads, “We know Spanish. Come talk to us about voting," hundreds of volunteers with Voters Helping Voters meet them where they are.

"What more patriotic thing can you do in this life, in this country, than help people vote," Hatley said, "and frankly, what less patriotic thing can you do than trying to suppress that?"

888-839-VOTA is a bilingual national hotline to connect Latino Voters with information on everything from the electoral process to voter ID requirements.