Judge rules Iowa counties may provide election materials in other languages

DES MOINES — A district court judge has ruled Iowa counties may provide voter registration forms, ballots and other election materials in languages other than English.

A court injunction issued in 2008 required Iowa election materials to be printed in English. LULAC  — the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa — challenged the policy in court. Last week a Polk County district court judge ruled county election officials may provide voting forms in other languages, but they are not required to do so.

Joe Henry is LULAC’s Iowa political director.   “There’s between 40,000 to 50,000 people in Iowa (for whom) English is not their primary language and it’s not just Spanish,” Henry says. “It’s other languages from the Middle East, Asia, and so forth and so on, so this is a victory for everyone and it assures our constitutional right to vote.”

A spokesperson for Iowa’s secretary of state says state officials are in contact with county auditors and Iowa’s attorney general about next steps. Secretary of State Paul Pate, who was named in the lawsuit, could appeal the district court ruling.

Governor Tom Vilsack signed legislation in 2002 requiring the English language to be used in all state government documents unless documents are necessary to secure a constitutional right. In 2003, state election officials began offering voting materials in other languages and Steve King, who was an Iowa congressman at the time, sued — leading to the 2008 decision that has barred the secretary of state from providing voter registration forms in any language other than English.