Que pasa? How did the Nevada caucus forget to hire a Spanish translator?

A Clinton supporter volunteered at the last minute to be the Spanish translator for the caucus. But she claims she was shouted down by Sanders supporters. Accusations are flying, but why was a neutral translator not assigned beforehand? 

John Locher/AP
Lichele Cortes sips coffee while sitting in a caucus room at Caesars Palace during the Nevada Democratic caucus, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Las Vegas.

Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders duked it out for the Hispanic vote in Nevada Saturday. But both camps, and the caucus organizers, seemed to have forgotten something important: a Spanish translator. 

Dolores Huerta, a prominent civil rights activist in the Latino community and a Clinton supporter, volunteered to translate before the start of the caucus. Then in a tweet Saturday afternoon, Ms. Huerta claimed she was heckled by Sanders supporters. 

But Sanders-supporter Susan Sarandon countered Huerta’s tweet with one of her own Saturday evening. 

Instead of chanting "English only," Ms. Sarandon says audience members were shouting "Neutral," because they wanted a neutral translator without clear affiliation to either Clinton or Sanders. 


Erin Cruz, an independent volunteer at the Nevada Caucus site, says the moderator at the front of the room asked for a translator from the audience after realizing they didn’t have one. 

“Immediately, the Hillary camp starts ushering up Dolores Huerta, who is a prominent Latina activist and very outspoken for Hillary,” Ms. Cruz recounts to US Uncut. “We were yelling for the process to stay neutral, taking objection because we felt there should have been a translator, but it should have been someone undecided, not someone for Bernie, or someone for Hillary.” 

After the room started erupting, the moderator told both sides of the room that whoever reached the stage first would be the translator. Both camps offered a translator, but the moderator realized there would be no fair way to decide between the two. Then the moderator told the audience the caucus would be conducted in English only, since no consensus could be reached. 

“All we said was we need a neutral party to be up there,” Sarah Falanga, a Sanders supporter, tells US Uncut. 

Clinton supporters say Huerta had every intention of giving a neutral translation, and there is no excuse for the behavior from Sanders’ camp. 

“We were with the Culinary Workers, and a good chunk of our supporters wanted a translator,” Delia Garcia, the caucus precinct captain assistant and observer for the Clinton campaign, told ThinkProgress. “I’m so disappointed because Dolores Huerta is a progressive icon in our community, not just Latinas, but labor, women, everybody – to treat here that way is just not cool.” 

But the real question at hand isn’t for Sarandon, Huerta, Clinton or Sanders. It is for the moderator: Why was a neutral Spanish translator not sought out before the start of the caucus?

Nevada Democratic Party officials have yet to comment on the slip-up. But it seems like an unfortunate oversight, considering Clinton and Sanders’ Latino focus in the western state.  According to Pew, 28 percent of Nevada’s population – and 17 percent of all eligible voters – identify as Hispanic.    

Clark County, which includes major cities like Las Vegas, has a population of over two million – more than two-thirds of Nevada’s entire population. And 30.3 percent of the county’s population is Hispanic, which is higher than the overall state average of 27.8 percent. More than 30 percent of Clark County speaks a language other than English at home.

Since 1965, the Voting Rights Act has fought for language equality in political processes. Under this law, language translation is required when more than five percent of the state’s voting age citizens “are members of a single language minority and are limited-English proficient” or 10,000 voting age citizens are members of a language minority – whichever is lower. 

Because of the Voting Rights Act, all US elections in Clark County must be conducted in both English and Spanish

So instead of pointing the finger and unleashing an arsenal of tweets against either the Sanders or Clinton camps, attention should be focused on the Nevada Democratic Party’s glaring omission. 

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