Federal officials won't require Treasure Coast elections ballots to be in English and Spanish in 2012 after determining local Hispanic populations have a good enough grasp on English.
The U.S. Department of Justice requires a county to print bilingual materials if more than 5 percent of voting age citizens are members of a single-language minority and are limited in their English proficiency.
Local Hispanic groups met the population criteria in the 2010 U.S. Census — 12.2 percent in Martin County, 16.6 in St. Lucie, 6.5 in Indian River — so the counties' supervisors of elections braced for the added cost of printing bilingual elections materials. The materials include ballots, voting guides, voter information cards and more.
St. Lucie County set aside about $100,000 for the bilingual materials, said Supervisor of Elections Gertrude Walker. Martin stowed an extra $42,500 in its budget.
Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan said the 2012 budget was so tight she couldn't set aside dollars for the ballots. She also said she anticipated the mandate wouldn't apply in Indian River.
But federal officials announced Wednesday that only a handful of Florida counties would add the bilingual ballot requirement — none on the Treasure Coast. In Martin and St. Lucie counties, the money set aside will go back to the counties at the budget year's end, officials said.
"It's kind of a sigh of relief because the funds the county (St. Lucie) allocated won't be needed," Walker said.
Federal officials exempted each local department after determining local Spanish-first-language voters meet English proficiency standards — the second provision in the federal bilingual ballot requirement.
All three counties have versions of their websites in Spanish. The state also is required to have a Spanish-language version of its elections website, which local supervisors can link to on their sites, so they don't need to translate all their online forms and voters guides, Walker said.
St. Lucie also has a Spanish-language sample ballot at its voting precincts, offers a Spanish-language voter guide and voter registration applications in Creole, Walker said.
The mandate would've come during tough county budget times, and a year in which primaries, local elections and once-a-decade local, state and congressional redistricting will bump up costs.
Martin County set aside $40,000 to send out new voter registration cards to residents who fall into new districts, depending on how the lines are redrawn.
Martin's elections office also has two countywide contests budgeted, the scheduled presidential preference primary in January and the August primary. Each contest is projected at $150,000.
The office cut costs by reducing the number of voting precincts from 46 to 31, reducing about 75 poll workers per election. Poll workers receive $150 to $200 per election.
Indian River County's elections office cut the number of polling places from 35 to 23 starting in November for about $122,000 in savings. The office also will save $12,000 because the state shortened early voting from 15 to 10 days, and $21,348 from newly required 3 percent employee contributions into the Florida Retirement System.
Swan also will save taxpayers almost $22,000 by cutting her pay and giving up her car allowance, her county health benefits and 119 hours of personal leave.
But that still equates to about a $132,000 overall budget increase for Swan's office — $1.15 million total for 2012 — because of multiple elections and redistricting costs.
Despite a wide gap between anticipated county revenues and expenses in St. Lucie County, Walker said she had to ask for a $198,000, or about 8.5 percent, budget increase in 2012 because of the one-time elections costs.
The county actually reduced the elections budget from about $2.36 million to $2.26 million, but $198,000 is set aside in reserves for the anticipated added elections costs.
After redistricting, sending out new voter information cards to inform citizens of their new districts will cost about $50,000, Walker said.
The St. Lucie elections office also could consolidate 20 to 25 of its 80 precincts once redistricting re-shuffles the voting landscape, Walker said.
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