BARTOW, Fla. - Registered voters were not the only ones that hit the polls in Polk County today. Some precincts had a visitor from the U.S. Department of Justice.
On Monday, the department announced that Polk is one of five counties in Florida where it plans to monitor the election to ensure proper voting rights regarding language barriers.
“It’s very routine monitoring, that’s been very clear,” said Lori Edwards, Supervisor of Elections for Polk County.
Edwards knew the feds planned to stop by on Tuesday. She says the reason is this is the first year the county is required to provide services in two languages.
The 2010 census triggered the new requirement.
“We had a growth in our population of people of Hispanic origin of about 132 percent,” she said.
By law, Polk County now must offer ballots in English and in Spanish. Signage and other materials must also include a Spanish translation.
The call center at election headquarters is also staffed with several workers that can speak both languages.
The department now has 84 bilingual employees to meet the new mandate -- many are sent to work the polls in precincts closest to the Hispanic communities.
“You can’t help but wonder about someone who flies in from Washington D.C. all of a sudden and says they’re the expert and want to breathe down your neck,” Edwards said with a smile. “But beyond that, we’re very confident in our process here.”
A DOJ spokesman would not comment on its decision to monitor elections in Polk, beyond a press release stating it is to ensure voting rights.
The department is known to send out hundreds of officials each year to monitor elections, but it won’t say how they pick which elections to monitor.
Regardless, Edwards says even with some visitors in town, it’s still business as usual.
“There is no suggestion that Polk County is doing anything wrong and I don’t suspect anything like that would be indicated,” she said.
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