CALDWELL — Canyon County’s decision to allow poll workers to assist voters in Spanish could affect Hispanic voter turnout Tuesday.
After an Idaho Press story revealed no state rule prohibiting bilingual poll workers from assisting voters in Spanish, Canyon County began instructing precincts to allow bilingual poll workers to speak Spanish to voters.
County spokesman Joe Decker said elections staff “inherited” the rule from a prior administration, which was in place before Canyon County Clerk Chris Yamamoto was elected in 2010.
However, with the change coming this close to Election Day, it’s still unclear how much the reversal will affect Spanish-speaking voters in Canyon County. Furthermore, Decker said, only five or six of Canyon County’s roughly 420 poll workers speak Spanish.
“After learning this, we immediately began the process of reaching out to our chief judges and poll workers to let them know that they can assist voters in Spanish if they have the ability to,” Decker wrote in a follow-up statement. “We would still encourage voters who speak Spanish to bring someone who can provide translation services for them.”
Canyon County has the largest Hispanic population in Idaho. U.S. Census Data estimates 33,000 Canyon County residents speak a language other than English at home and 12,000 people speak English “less than well.”
Gabe Osterhout, a research associate at Boise State’s Idaho Policy Institute, said academic research shows an increase in minority voter turnout in counties where voters can vote in their first language. Although Lincoln County is the only Idaho county with actual ballots in Spanish, this election is the first time in at least eight years Canyon County will have some type of Spanish-language assistance available for voters.
“It will be difficult to measure the impact of this change on voter turnout, especially since voter participation is already historically high for a midterm cycle,” Osterhout said. “But this represents a step toward more voter inclusion.”
ACLU of Idaho is staffing a bilingual elections complaint line all day Tuesday. Voters can call 208-344-9750 for help in English or Spanish.