LULAC Asks Secretary Of State To Clarify So-Called “English-Only” Law

The Iowa League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) filed a petition for a declaratory order from the secretary of state. "This is going to be a lengthy process. But this is a very important process," said Joe Henry, LULAC Iowa's political director.

By Kassidy Arena, Iowa Public Radio 

The Iowa League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) has asked Secretary of State Paul Pate for a declaratory order about a state law that requires all political documents to be in the English language, which includes voting materials.

The civil rights group, with 22 councils across the state, is ultimately asking that all counties be allowed to translate documents related to voting.


It asks that the secretary of state answer three specific questions:

  1. May county auditors outside of Buena Vista accept and use the official Spanish-language versions of the State of Iowa Official Voter Registration Form and the State of Iowa Official Absentee Ballot Request Form?
  2. Must county auditors in all Iowa counties accept and use the official Spanish-language version of the National Mail Voter Registration Form?
  3. May county auditors outside of Buena Vista county accept and use the official Spanish-language version of the State of Iowa Official Absentee Ballot Request Form?

They request that all answers be yes.

The declaratory order currently lists only Buena Vista and Tama County as permitted to use the Spanish-language documents.


Those two counties are designated under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, which says jurisdictions with another prevalent minority language must provide voting materials “in the language of the applicable minority group as well as in the English language.”

Buena Vista County must translate materials to Spanish and Tama County has a large population of Indigenous Peoples.

As of last year, the secretary of state’s office confirmed the Iowa law requires English-only voter registration forms.


Joe Henry, LULAC Iowa’s political director, said the law has violated some groups’ right to vote.

“For whatever reason, our right has not been upheld here in Iowa since 2008. And it is extremely unfortunate and it really has caused us undue harm,” he said.

Henry was referring to when former Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King sued the secretary of state in 2008 for violating the Iowa English Language Reaffirmation Actsigned by former Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack.

Henry said they are not only fighting this law for Latinos and Spanish-speakers.


“We will fight for this, not only for us, but for other groups, such as Native Americans, such as Burmese, and many others, whose primary language is not English,” he said.

In a written statement, LULAC Iowa State Director Nick Salazar added: “Our democracy works best when every Iowa voter can participate in the process. Forcing Spanish-speaking voters to vote in a language they do not understand denies their right to vote and weakens the integrity of our elections … This petition is a step towards making sure that all Iowan voters are heard at the ballot box.”

The State Data Center reports there are more than ten languages spoken in Iowa homes. It estimates there are numerous families who speak English “less than ‘very well.'”

Henry said LULAC is thankful it has the resources and opportunity to challenge the law in court if necessary. The Secretary of State has 60 days to respond to the petition. LULAC expects the full 60 days to be used.

Henry urged Iowans to get involved in the political process to ensure all Iowans have access to voting.

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