Some Tarrant County ballots will look different soon.
That’s because they’ll be in Vietnamese.
The U.S. Census Bureau recently released a list of 263 jurisdictions across the country — including Tarrant County — that must provide additional language assistance during elections for a growing number of non-English speaking voters.
“This is new territory for us,” said Stephen Vickers, chief deputy elections administrator in Tarrant County.
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When Vickers began working for the Tarrant County elections office more than 20 years ago, ballots were already being distributed in both English and Spanish.
Now there may be two sets — one in English and Spanish and one in English and Vietnamese.
In recent years, Vickers said the elections office has seen a growing number of Vietnamese voters, which is why it hired several Vietnamese-speaking staffers. Some of those staffers now may be able to help translate election paperwork, including ballots, to meet this new requirement.
The U.S. Census report this week showed that dozens of Texas counties must have both English and Spanish ballots, which many, such as Tarrant County, have long been providing.
Just two Texas counties — Tarrant and Harris — were listed as needing to have ballots also in Vietnamese. But Harris County also needs to have them in Chinese and Taiwanese, according to the Federal Register Notice.
In addition to providing documents in Spanish, two other Texas counties, El Paso and Maverick, also must provide language assistance for American Indian voters.
In Tarrant County, having English, Spanish and Vietnamese on each ballot might make it too long, so election officials might create two sets each election — one in English and Spanish and one in English and Vietnamese.
Tarrant County has a growing Vietnamese community, particularly in Arlington and Haltom City, which helped elect Andy Nguyen — who was born in Vietnam and later immigrated to the United States with his family — to the Tarrant County Commissioners Court.
While the new rules about providing election assistance in other languages formally went into effect this week, the first local ballots in Vietnamese — barring any special elections — likely will be for the May local elections.
“We don’t have anything in the works yet,” Vickers said. “But we knew this was coming.”
He said he doesn’t know how much it will cost to create additional ballots in Vietnamese.
“We will take it one step at a time until we figure it out,” Vickers said.