Have problems voting on Election Day? Hotlines in various languages can help

  • Hotlines in several languages will be available to help voters who have difficulties voting in local elections Tuesday.

      Hotlines in several languages will be available to help voters who have difficulties voting in local elections Tuesday. Rick West | Staff Photographer, 2014

Posted4/5/2021 5:30 AM

Some examples of problems suburban voters might encounter at the polls Tuesday: language barriers, difficulties in registering to vote as newly naturalized citizens, or feeling intimidated on the way to cast their ballot.

That's according to Jenny Terrell, program counsel for the Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, a nonpartisan lawyers' group part of a national "Election Protection" coalition devoted to ensuring all eligible voters have an equal opportunity to vote.


Local elections take place Tuesday for municipalities, school boards, library boards and other local government bodies throughout the suburbs and most of Illinois. The committee will have volunteers staffing hotlines from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. helping voters in English, Spanish, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Tagalog, Urdu and Vietnamese.

Compared to general elections, the hotlines get fewer calls during local elections, which also have lower voter turnout. However, "the calls that we do get during local elections tend to be about concerning or serious issues that may require significant follow-up," Terrell said.

Typically there are more voter intimidation calls during local elections, she said.

"Municipal elections are often so hotly contested, and there is such hyperlocal dynamics going on. The role that some can get elected to -- alderman, trustee or mayor -- can have a lot of power on shaping the local community."

Intimidation can take different forms -- and is all about how the voter feels, Terrell said.

It might be someone walking up to voters too close to polling places or voters spotting people with influence or connections near the polls.

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"It can be really specific to that community," she said.

Electioneering typically can only happen 100 feet or beyond the polls.

Issues regarding language barriers or newly naturalized citizens normally can be resolved quickly, with a phone call to election judges or the local clerk's offices, who typically "respond really well," Terrell said.

But if needed, volunteers are dispatched to polling places to resolve issues in person, she said.

During the November election, committee volunteers responded to more than 1,500 calls from Illinois and Indiana voters.

"Poll watchers were deployed to high-priority polling places and helped voters who faced barriers such as intimidation and electioneering, registration hurdles, and accessibility issues," the committee said.

The work done on Election Day can spotlight concerns that need to be addressed further, Terrell said.

"If we are seeing a pattern (of problems), that's the type of work that can fuel our policy reform work for the rest of the year, or might require litigation."


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How to get help on Election Day

All voters can go to the polls accompanied by a friend or family member.

They can also call hotlines on Election Day: 866-OUR-VOTE (English), 888-VE-Y-VOTA (Spanish), 888-API-VOTE (Asian/Pacific Islander languages), or 844-YALLA-US (Arabic).

The Voting Rights Act regulates language requirements for elections where more than 10,000, or more than 5%, of citizens of voting age belong to a language minority group, have depressed literacy rates and do not speak English very well.

That means:

• Cook County, Lake County and Kane County are required to provide ballots and oral interpretation (bilingual election judges/poll workers) in Spanish. In parts of Cook County, ballots and oral assistance is required in Chinese, ballots are required in Hindi, and oral assistance is required in Hindi, Gujarati and Urdu.

Additionally, Cook County now offers ballots everywhere in Korean, Tagalog, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, Arabic, Gujarati and Urdu.

• There are no federal language requirements in DuPage and McHenry counties. McHenry County only has ballots in English, DuPage also has ballots in Spanish.

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