- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Adult students in the Clarendon Education Center’s English as a Second Language Program in Arlington used yesterday’s election in Virginia to learn about the importance of voting.

“It’s part of the education process they receive at the center to teach them about democracy and how it works in the United States,” said Serena Ingre-Martinez, an Arlington County spokeswoman.

The students’ class was held at the same location as the Clarendon voting precinct. As part of their lesson yesterday, the English-language students watched voters and took part in mock elections.

Students in the program come from all over the world — Latin America, Asia and parts of Africa — hoping to learn English and become citizens.

“For those who think they should learn English, we agree. They are in the process of learning,” said Arlington County Board member J. Walter Tejada.

Andres Tobar, executive director of the Shirlington Employment and Education Center, said he expected a high turnout among Hispanic voters yesterday.

“As a result of the focus on so many immigrant issues, I believe the immigrant community is going to come out in force,” Mr. Tobar said.

Overall, Virginia election officials said turnout wasn’t as heavy as during last year’s presidential election.

Fairfax County’s general registrar Jackie Harris said voter turnout will likely be around 40 percent. Tom Parkins, registrar in Alexandria, said election workers were “not nearly as busy as last year.” Maryland officials reported light to moderate turnout.

Virginia jurisdictions are not required to provide ballots in any language other than English, said Rosanna Bencoach, policy manager for the State Board of Elections in Virginia.

Federal law says that if more than 5 percent of an election jurisdiction or 10,000 people do not speak English but speak another language, a ballot must be offered in that language.

“As of the last census — the 2000 results — no Virginia jurisdictions fall under that section,” Ms. Bencoach said.

Virginia law requires election officials to accept translated versions of the national voter-registration application.

If a person arrives at a voting place and does not speak English, he can bring a person into the voting booth to translate. The person cannot be the voter’s employer or a labor union representative.

Local jurisdictions cannot provide ballots in other languages because Virginia’s state code requires ballots be as uniform as possible. Still, some Northern Virginia counties provided help to voters who don’t speak English well.

“We try as much as possible with signage and instructions to provide our Spanish-speaking residents with voting materials,” said Linda Lindberg, Arlington County registrar.

In Alexandria, city officials try to hire bilingual elections officers, said Eric Spicer, an Alexandria elections administrator.

The city, which has 24 polling places, had two bilingual officers working yesterday.

In Prince William County, a bilingual elections official explained the voting process on the Spanish-language station Radio Fiesta 1480 AM.

Fairfax County provided translations of information about a public school bond in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Korean because it is a local issue, officials said.

• Tom Ramstack and Tarron Lively contributed to this report.

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