And amid rising anti-Asian racism, more Asian Americans were motivated to vote in recent elections, experts have said, elevating their roles in swing districts such as Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, which covers most of Gwinnett.
“Language access and language equity is the main issue for the immigrant community,” said Michelle Kang, vice president of external affairs for the Korean American Chamber of Commerce of Atlanta and one of five Gwinnett residents who served on a budget advisory committee.
Nearby DeKalb County began voluntarily providing voter information in Korean in fall 2020, the first county in Georgia to do so. Korean Americans petitioned the Gwinnett commission to follow suit after the U.S. Senate runoff election a year ago, Kang said.
“It was a very fierce fight between two parties and language access is more important than before,” she said.
This year’s Gwinnett budget contains $4.4 million in expanded election services, including the new translation initiative and eight new elections division positions. Also covered by that funding is a pay increase for poll workers and postage for absentee ballots.
Actual ballots will continue to be available in two languages — English and Spanish — per federal law.
“Everything else that we do that isn’t an actual ballot or an envelope” will also be translated into the Asian languages,” Elections Supervisor Zach Manifold said. That includes sample ballots, registration paperwork and other informational materials about voting and working at the polls.
Gwinnett is using the state’s contract with Ad Astra Inc. for translation services but the county will convene advisory groups of residents who speak the languages, Manifold said. The “language collaboration groups” will check the translations for accuracy and help recruit bilingual workers to provide assistance at the polls, he said.
They can also engage voters at events in their communities, Manifold said.
The advisory groups will be able to suggest additional materials their communities might need, how they should be distributed and recommend other issues with voting the county should address.
“We really want this to be a grassroots movement that the community is giving us feedback and then we’re meeting that need,” Manifold said. “I think we all view this as just a starting point of a discussion with these communities.”
Kang said she expects the Asian American and Pacific Islander population to grow continuously over the next decade in Gwinnett, to the point that the county might eventually be required by law to provide actual ballots in Asian languages.
In Georgia, the number of Asian American voters more than doubled from 2016 to 2020.
The county needs to do more than hand out brochures to reach Asian American voters, Kang said. She suggested educational sessions or a listening tour.
“Just providing material doesn’t do well because we need more community interaction between government officials and community members,” she said. “They need to make a double effort.”
The county can leverage the plethora of local organizations supporting Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, Kang said.
“There’s resources out there,” she said. “We can work together. That will be the start.”
Data specialist Jennifer Peebles contributed to this article.
Most common languages other than English spoken in Gwinnett County homes
Spanish 174,797 speakers, 20% of population age 5 and older
Vietnamese 25,537 speakers, 2.9% of population
Korean 22,169 speakers, 2.5% of population
Chinese (including Mandarin and Cantonese) 12,300 speakers, 1.4% of population
Yoruba, Twi, Igbo or other languages of Western Africa 11,766 speakers, 1.3% of population
Source: American Community Survey 1-year estimates, 2019