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Spanish Speakers Volunteer for elección Day 2006

Terms such as “ballot question” and “registered voter” are not typically covered in Spanish classes at Smith, so instructor Juan Pablo Jimenez provided a primer on those words and other election terminology three days before voters went to the polls for this year's mid-term elections.

His audience: More than two dozen Spanish-speaking Smith students who volunteered to serve as interpreters today at polling locations in the nearby city of Springfield.

By the time Jimenez and faculty member Reyes Lazaro gathered the students together, they had received the city’s approval to waive the residency requirement for poll workers.

“Everyone feels committed. We feel we have a responsibility as an educational institution to raise our voices and contribute when we are needed,” said Lazaro, associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese. “It’s an engagement with the community where everyone gains.”

Students planned to spend today at polling locations scattered throughout the city of about 152,000—27.7 percent of which is Spanish-speaking. Some students signed up to arrive at 6:30 a.m. and leave when the polls close at 8 p.m., while others committed to work half the day.

Jimenez learned of the need for bilingual poll workers through the news about a recent lawsuit filed against the City of Springfield by the U.S. government, alleging the city failed to provide bilingual assistance to Spanish-speaking voters with limited proficiency in English.

The city and federal government later agreed to a settlement requiring more Spanish language signs and notices in newspapers and radio prior to every election, and at least one bilingual poll official in nearly every polling location. This year, Smith students filled 20 of the required 95 bilingual poll official spots.

11/7/06   By Kristen Cole
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