I. In Focus This Week
King County, Washington offers grants to expand language access
$435,000 for 30 different organizations
By M. Mindy Moretti
Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Tagalog, Russian, Somali, Ukranian, Samoan, Japanese and Punjabi are just some of the at least 15 languages other than English spoken in King County, Washington.
While the county is only required by Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act to provide voting materials in Chinese and Vietnamese, county law also requires the King County Elections Department to also offer voting materials in Spanish and Korean.
The county also provides materials in non-mandated languages such as Japanese, Tagalog, Khmer and Somali. That still leaves no fewer than 10 languages county voters speak.
In order to maximize impact, King County Elections reached out to partner with the Seattle Foundation to create the Voter Education Fund, a granting program for community-based organizations to provide either a 9-month campaign or series of small events to expand voter education and access.
“The foundation’s voter outreach methods seemed like a natural fit,” explained Kafia Hosh, spokeswoman for King County Elections.
King County Elections and the Seattle Foundation conducted a pilot of the grant program in 2016, awarding $224,000 in grants to community-based organizations that reached 27,000 limited-English-speaking voters across the county.
According to Hosh, the elections department has three main goals for the program:
- Increase the number of limited English-speaking voters requesting translated materials.
- Increase new voter registrations in communities served.
- Increase voter turnout and voter participation.
“We reached language groups and communities where we saw the most need,” Hosh said. “We were able to reach voters that primarily speak languages not currently translated into ballot materials, including Somali, Amharic, and Swahili.”
In 2017 the county received 59 grant applications and ended up granting $435,000 to 30 different organizations. Organizations receiving grants include Eritrean Association of Great Seattle, Ethiopian Community in Seattle, LGBTQ Allyship, NAACP, Somali Community Services of Seattle, and the Seattle/King County Coalition for Homelessness.
“I’m thrilled with the diversity of organizations being funded this year and the exciting plans to support voting in their communities,” said Julie Wise, Director of King County Elections. “We’re committed to improving voting access, especially in what is an important local election year for King County.”
To qualify, organizations were required to be either a 501 C (3) or a Fiscal sponsored group. They were required to submit a completed application, a proposed field plan and a budget. The application period opened on April 3 and closed at 5 p.m. on May 2.
A small team from the Seattle Foundation, King County Elections and the King County Office of Equity and Social Justice reviewed the applications. They took into consideration the geographic areas served in each proposal with an eye to serve small cities in south and north King County. They also conducted site visits for some organizations.
Applications were scored on a point system based on five criteria:
- Target population community—showing the gap the organization’s project plans to fill and their role in doing so.
- The organization’s capacity and experience in doing voter education.
- The organization’s system for tracking progress, such as measures and metrics used for tracking.
- The proposed field plan: the scope, creativity and intended impact.
- The budget.
One organization receiving funds is Longhouse Media which produces media relating to Native issues and people. Longhouse Media will use their award to engage Native youth in the civic process.
"It’s imperative that Indigenous people, especially the youth, are invited to vote and made to feel that their voices matter to the future of our communities,” said Tracy Rector, Executive Director of Longhouse Media.
The Seattle Foundation provided $205,260 and King County Elections provided $230,000.
According to Hosh, voter outreach, especially in historically underserved communities is a major priority for King County Elections and so they see the grant funding as an ongoing effort.
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