August 7th, 2020
Sent via electronic mail
Secretary Kathy Boockvar
Pennsylvania Department of State
302 North Office Building, 401 North Street
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Re: Assuring Spanish Speakers Have Access to Pennsylvania’s Online Mail-in Ballot Request Form
Dear Secretary Boockvar:
On behalf of the undersigned, I am writing to express our concerns regarding Spanish speaker access to the online mail-in ballot request form.
In October 2019, Act 77 made historic changes to Pennsylvania’s election code. For the first time, voters were granted the option to request that their ballots be mailed to them (also known as no-excuse absentee or mail-in ballots). Voters can request a mail-in ballot by filling out an online form, going directly to the county office, or by printing out a request form and mailing it to their local county office.
The option to vote by mail has not been equitably granted to all citizens of Pennsylvania. As of 2013, there were over 500,000 people in Pennsylvania who spoke Spanish in the home, and almost 200,000 Spanish speakers who answered that they “speak English less than very well.” These 200,000 plus voters do not have access to a Spanish version of the online form to request a mail-in ballot.
Per the language minority provisions in Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, voters in Berks, Lehigh, and Philadelphia counties are to have access to all voter information in Spanish. However, the online form is English only. If the State webpage is not available in Spanish, then affected voters in these counties are not given equal access by the State. Recognizing that this may be an inadvertent oversight, we nonetheless see that intent does not mediate outcome. Lack of access contributes to voter disenfranchisement, if not voter suppression.
Furthermore, COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Hispanic communities in the United States. Language barriers can prevent the spread of reliable information related to the COVID-19 crisis. Hispanic people make up 7.6 percent of the population of Pennsylvania, but 11 percent of total COVID-19 deaths. Hispanic people also make up the largest population group lacking health insurance in the United States. These factors combined make it even more vital that mail-in ballots are easily available for Hispanic voters.
To address this problem, we request that the online form be made available in Spanish by August 19th, 2020.
Thank you for your consideration.
Gary S. Wegman, DMD
Candidate for Pennsylvania’s 9th Congressional District
On behalf of:
Mr. Michael Blichar Jr., M.Ed.
Candidate for Pennsylvania House District 187
Mr. Taylor E. Picone
Candidate for Pennsylvania House District 124
Mrs. Kelly McDonough
Candidate for the Pennsylvania House District 129
Mr. Graham S. Gonzales
Candidate for the Pennsylvania House District 5
Mr. Todd Eachus
Candidate for Pennsylvania House District 116