Earlier this month, Sonoma County’s Registrar of Voters Office noted that a Spanish translation of the county’s voter information guide included three factual errors.
Though the translation was grammatically and lexically sound, it provided Spanish-speaking readers with erroneous information, including misinformation on the deadline to return mail-voting ballots. The errors were not present in the original English versions of the document.
“The Registrar of Voters Office sincerely apologizes for these errors and any confusion they may have caused voters,” an announcement from the office reads. The announcement also included corrected information.
While the county corrected its error, it did not do so until just a few days before the deadline to return ballots. It’s unclear whether or not this mistake impacted voter turnout among predominantly Spanish-speaking voters, however the mistake highlights the continued need for improved quality assurance measures when it comes to official translations of government communications.
It’s likely that the Spanish translation was not updated from a previous voter’s guide intended for a special election which took place this past April, as the translated guide refers to the deadlines for that election as well as the city in which it took place, rather than the statewide primary election for which the guide was intended.
Specifically, the Spanish version of the voter information guide told readers in that their mail-voting ballots were to be mailed before April 12, 2022 — the actual deadline to vote by mail was June 7, 2022. This mistake was made twice in the guide. The guide also made reference to voters of Windsor, the town where April’s special election took place — instead, it should have referred to the voters of Sonoma County, as the election was not limited to Windsor alone.
This isn’t the first time in recent years that a government agency has found itself in hot water for publishing incorrect or mistranslated information in another language, and the error comes after years of increased awareness on the importance of language access. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Virginia Department of Health got in trouble after an investigation revealed that the department used Google Translate, rather than hiring a professional translator, to publish Spanish-language content. This led to the publication of misleading information on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.