DOVER — An appellate decision on Tuesday ruled that this Morris County town must print its primary ballots in Spanish as well as English.

The decision stems from a lawsuit filed by Edward Correa, who was a municipal district candidate for the Democratic County Committee in the June primary. Although the sample primary ballots mailed to voters included a Spanish translation, the actual ballots did not.

A Superior Court judge had dismissed the lawsuit after pointing to state law that only appears to require a Spanish translation on sample ballots in towns where more than 10% of voters speak primarily Spanish. The law does not explicitly require bilingual ballots on election day.

About 66% of the town's 18,200 people speak Spanish. More than 3,000 households that speak Spanish have a limited grasp of English, according to the American Community Survey.

Correa, who was joined by the Democratic State Committee and the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, countered that the law requires sample ballots to be “nearly as possible, a facsimile of the official primary ballot.” Having an official ballot that is only in English defeats the purpose of the sample ballot, they argued.

The appellate decision acknowledges the “apparent contradiction” in the law, but concludes that lawmakers clearly intended both sets of ballots to be bilingual.

“As a practical matter, it makes no sense to provide bilingual sample ballots because voters are not fluent in English, but to expect those same voters to navigate an official balloting process that is English-only,” the appellate decision says.

“Rather, we presume that the Legislature, being familiar with its own enactments, would have expected that the 'facsimile' language pertaining to sample and official ballots would result in the official ballots mirroring the sample ballots where the Legislature required the sample ballots to be printed in both Spanish and English. We acknowledge that if we have misconstrued the Legislature's purpose, the Legislature is free, as always, to amend the statutes to clarify its intent.”

Even though the law is just as ambiguous about the November election ballots, the three judges on the appellate panel said that their ruling only applies to primary ballots because that was the scope of the lawsuit.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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