Arcadia officials grapple with Chinese language ballot error

Arcadia city election officials have spent the last week trying to minimize the confusion from a Chinese translation error on the all-mail ballot for the city’s general municipal election in April.

The ballot, mailed to residents this month, provided instructions in four languages. English, Vietnamese and Spanish speakers read that they should “vote for no more than two” of the five candidates for City Council.

In Chinese, the instructions read: “Vote for no more than three.”

Ballots with more than two votes for City Council members will be flagged as an “over vote,” voiding that portion of the ballot.

“We’ve never had an error like this before,” said Lisa Mussenden, Arcadia’s chief deputy city clerk and records manager. “The city is going to do whatever it can to reach out and try to minimize the error.”

Since last Wednesday, when a Chinese-speaking voter called the city clerk about the translation error, officials have published notices in local papers, printed fliers and announced it at last week’s candidates’ forum hosted by the Arcadia Chinese Assn.

Postcards alerting voters of the translation error and offering replacement ballots will be mailed out by the end of the week, Mussenden said.

City officials also have notified the five candidates: Gary A. Kovacic, Mary E. Dougherty, Sho Tay, Henry Nunez and John Wuo. Wuo, a candidate and former Arcadia mayor and council member, said an error of this “magnitude” has never occurred in the city.

“This is a major mistake,” he said, “especially if it’s going to be a very close election.”

“I told the Chinese newspapers and went on the Chinese radio and announced the mistake on the ballot,” Wuo said. “Hopefully I can reach out to the Chinese voters to pay attention. I have done what I can to tell my staff and volunteers to let as many people know.”

This is the first year the city is conducting an all-mail ballot. The City Council asked to try it, hoping it would save money, Mussenden said. The translations were provided by state-approved translators used throughout L.A. County.

Ballots are provided in multiple languages under the Voting Rights Act in municipal elections. The law states that all election information must be available in languages of minority groups that make up more than 10,000 or 5% of all voting-age citizens within the jurisdiction.

According to U.S. Census data from 2010, more than 50% of Arcadia’s residents identified themselves as Asian. In the last week, Mussenden said a “handful of voters have already sent in replacement ballots,” correcting their original vote for three candidates.

“We’re doing what we can,” she said, “and we’re now relying on those individuals to come in.”