Glendale this year has limited the sample ballot that goes out to all voters to just English and Armenian. But critics say officials should have kept with the prior practice of including all four major languages spoken in the city to avoid disenfranchising voters.
For the past two elections, all ballots were translated into English, Armenian, Spanish and Korean. But with 22 people running in the races for city council, city treasurer, city clerk and school board, plus three measures, the size of the ballot this year made a four-language ballot for all voters cost-prohibitive, City Clerk Ardy Kassakhian said.
He pointed out that voters who prefer Spanish- or Korean-language ballots can still request them from the city clerk's office.
Still, City Council members and two Latino candidates have criticized the decision to scale down the ballot, saying that the city was shortchanging minority voters.
"Either you send it out in the four major languages or you don't send it out at all," said Mayor Frank Quintero, complaining from the dais about the issue for the first time this week despite he and his colleagues having received a report about the cost-cutting measure in November.
Councilman Dave Weaver agreed.
Federal voting rights law requires jurisdictions provide election materials in major languages spoken by minorities as determined by the U.S. Census Bureau, but it does not require all materials in every language be mailed to all voters.
"The requirement is, instead, to provide materials in the covered languages to any voter who wants them," said Douglas Johnson, a fellow at the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College.
Johnson added that doing more than that would be too costly.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, which enforces the Voting Rights Act, declined to comment on "specific jurisdictions."
If the ballot had been printed in all four languages, it would have been more than 75 pages, driving up printing and shipping costs, Kassakhian said.
In 2011, the four-language ballot, which featured fewer candidates and measures, was 50 pages. This year's English-Armenian ballot is 32 pages.
Kassakhian noted that before he took over in 2005, only an English ballot was mailed to all voters.
Armenian is not a federally-mandated translation requirement in Los Angeles County, but Armenians are Glendale's largest minority group.
In addition to the cost-savings element, Kassakhian said he received complaints in the past that the four-language ballots were confusing.
The cost of the 2013 ballot was not immediately available.
While the "default" ballot is English-Armenian, the city sent English-Spanish and English-Korean ballots to targeted residents whose names were provided by the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder. Those who were not targeted could request a translated ballot of their choice, Kassakhian said.
But Dan Cabrera, a Glendale Unified school board candidate, said the method is flawed because new voters who don't read English fluently wouldn't know they had to request a ballot.
"It certainly didn't help the Spanish community to be more represented than they are," he said, noting that a Spanish-speaker won't feel encouraged to register if they only see an English-Armenian ballot.
Sixteen percent of Glendale's voting-age population is Latino, according to the 2010 Census. But Latinos make up just slightly more than 1% of the city's registered voters, according to Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder.
Herbert Molano, a City Council candidate, said he was surprised to get his ballot in just English and Armenian. He questioned how a city with a General Fund budget the size of Glendale's — $165 million — couldn't afford to print one ballot with all four languages.
Glendale officials have been trimming costs for years as they've faced yawning budget gaps.
The city advertised the election center's contact information in several minority-language newspapers, uploaded vote-by-mail ballot instruction videos in all four languages to its website, and made all the translated ballots available online.
Kassakhian said the city could review changing the ballot configuration again before the next election.
"It's something that we can continue to explore," he said.