February 28, 2012 by Jack Suntrup
Partisan proxy wars concerning the 2012 election process are underway.
Spanish-speaking citizens in Northwest Arkansas are still without up-to-date voter registration forms, said Maria Hicks, the Vice Chair of the Third District Democrat Hispanic Caucus. The oversight is causing confusion and could be in violation of the Federal Voting Rights Act and the Arkansas Constitution.
“They’re not available … they have no forms in Spanish,” said Hicks, who is running for Washington County Justice of the Peace, District 7. “I was just there today and they said they were working on getting me the Spanish one. I told them it was a violation of the state constitution and they were surprised by that.”
When Hicks had the same problem on Feb. 27, she said she called the Secretary of State’s office and was told that they were working on translating a new version.
“They are going to be made available,” said Alex Reed, a spokesman for the Secretary of State. “What the issue was was they made some changes with the voter registration application, and so we’re working on getting them translated. But we are going to make them available and going to make them available shortly.”
Though there are registration forms online, they are not updated versions and Hicks said it possible the old versions could be rejected.
“We were not aware that there should be a new form,” she said. “We don’t get a notification if they just reject the form.”
Not so, said Reed, who made assurances that the old versions will still be accepted.
“You can still register with those,” he said. “The county clerks will still recognize the old forms that have been translated.”
Calls to the Benton, Washington, and Crawford County clerks showed that no forms are available. A Benton County representative said the forms have not been available for a year; Crawford County was unsure if they ever carried the forms. The Washington County Clerk suggested calling the Secretary of State’s office. According to the Arkansas Constitution, “Bilingual (Spanish/English) forms, braille forms, and large print forms shall be available upon request.”
Secretary of State Mark Martin has been faced with the issue of Spanish-speaking voters before. After his election in 2010, State Representative Donna Hutchison urged Martin to stop the use of Spanish documents in state government via Facebook.
“Donna, I fully intend to take care of this issue,” Martin posted in reply, although he backtracked in a Nov. 16, 2010, interview with Fox 16.
“I don’t support taking an active position on any of that stuff,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do and my response was that ‘I’m going to take care of business,’ and I’m going to take care of business in the proper way, not get into a bunch of hot-button fights.”
The hot-button issue had seemingly fallen off the radar, until now, as the two major parties are mobilizing their bases. Registering as many Hispanic voters as possible is a priority for Democrats in this area, as the Hispanic caucus tries to put forward five candidates this year in various races, Hicks said at a Feb. 27 Washington County Democratic Committee meeting.
Northwest Arkansas has the highest concentration of Hispanics in the state, which magnifies the problem. Hicks’ district—the caucus is broken up along congressional lines—has been most active since this problem came to light, she said.
“I think because our caucus is most active in this district, we’re going to notice things before others, which is I’m sure what they know now,” Hicks said.
Hicks has contacted the Department of Justice with her concerns, and said she’s going to continue pushing the issue until new forms are produced.