The Dayton chapter of the League of Women Voters is known for its nonpartisan voter guide issued before every general election. The guide contains all of the candidates and issues on the ballot for Montgomery and Greene Counties.
In 2014, working closely with the Dayton Hispanic Chamber, the League published its voter guide in Spanish for the first time.
Sue Hesslegesser, Executive Director of the Dayton League, said it began when the Dayton Hispanic Chamber approached her in September of 2014.
"And they were telling us that many of their business owners, you know, legal citizens of the United States didn’t vote because they felt a little ostracized—or a little intimidated—by going to the polls. They suggested we do a voter’s guide in Spanish. And we looked at our budget—why not? So we were very excited to be able to do that."
The Dayton League is currently the only chapter of the League of Women Voters issuing a voter guide in Spanish in the Midwest. Things like voter information guides are produced by individual league chapters; some simply lack the funding and personnel resources to create materials in multiple languages.
Claudia Cortez-Reinhardt, Executive Director of the Dayton Hispanic Chamber, along with several members of her family, did the bulk of the translation work. Dayton League member Lillian Moskeland, fluent in Spanish herself, assisted with proofreading. Claudia moved from Washington D.C. to the Dayton area 2 years ago and saw a rapidly growing Hispanic population not being adequately served with reliable impartial election information in their first language.
"And myself as an immigrant, I feel the duty and responsibility to contribute and do this," says Claudia. "To be able to help the community be informed and just get involved ,you know, into politics or the election process. And just get involved to make this community a better community, not only the city of Dayton, but also the state."
Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. People who have been citizens for years voted for the first time because they felt properly informed.
"I went to St. Mary’s Church, and people were excited about it. They are going to school, they are learning English. But it’s—they can read, but if it’s in Spanish, they can understand it 100%," says Claudia. "I have several people sharing with me that they were happy because they were going to be able to talk to their kids about it, and their kids are able to vote. Or they were going to talk to their friends. If anything, they wanted to be well informed about their community and who were their candidates or government officials."
One such person supportive of the guide was Ramon Perez, a Dayton resident for over 25 years. Ramon, a well-known singer in the Dayton Hispanic community and his native Mexico, would use his performances as an opportunity to encourage his largely Hispanic audiences to read the guide and know their voting rights.
"I’ve been at different festivals, different affairs, and it is very important to inform them what I’ve found out about the importance of it."
This is not to say that there weren’t any obstacles. When looking for funding to print the translation, Sue first approached people who had donated to the Dayton League for the voter guide in the past.
"And some in the community we talked to were kind of, umm—I don’t want to say biased," she says. "It was that if someone was going to vote, that they should to able to speak English and read English. And so therefore, why would we have to translate it?"
There wasn’t a lot of that, but it illustrates the challenges that immigrants have, even in an immigrant friendly city.
"I’d like to see that people see us, Hispanics, with the same equity and the same way they see people from the Dayton community," says Ramon.
In its first year, 5,000 copies of the Spanish language guide were printed and distributed throughout the Dayton area. The Dayton League plans to keep issuing both English and Spanish versions for the next election.