The Department continually works to ensure that all voters and potential voters, including those with limited English proficiency, have equal access to our services and materials. In accordance with federal, state, and local laws, the Department provides tools and services designed to increase access for voters who speak a variety of languages.
The Voting Rights Act, enacted in 1965, requires the Department to provide assistance in Chinese and Spanish.
The San Francisco Language Access Ordinance, formerly called the Equal Access to Services (EAS) Ordinance, was enacted in 2001 to help ensure equal access to City services for all San Franciscans, including those with limited proficiency in English. To comply with this law, the Department provides all services and official election materials to voters in English, Chinese, Spanish, and Filipino.
The California Elections Code requires the California Secretary of State to determine the precincts where 3% or more of voting-age residents are members of a single-language minority and lack sufficient skills in English to vote without assistance. Based on this determination, the Department provides certain materials and services in Burmese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese.
Through the materials and services produced, the Department meets and exceeds all legal requirements related to language access. Ensuring access for all voters, including those with limited English proficiency, promotes an informed, engaged community of voters that reflects the diversity of San Francisco.
The Department of Elections is committed to providing San Francisco voters with information in their preferred language. To receive your ballot, Voter Information Pamphlet, and other election materials in Chinese, Spanish, or Filipino, please use the Request to Receive Translated Materials tool. You can also use this tool to request facsimile ballots in Burmese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, or Vietnamese by mail or email.
The Department translates over 70 forms, notices, applications, and other materials into Chinese, Spanish, and Filipino to ensure voters have access to election information.
Voting materials include the official ballot and sample ballot in English-Chinese, English-Spanish, and English-Filipino versions, and the Voter Information Pamphlet, which is available by mail or online in HTML format, in English, Chinese, Spanish, and Filipino. In addition, facsimile reference ballots are produced in Burmese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese and made available on the Department’s website, at the City Hall Voting Center, and at some in-person voting locations.
Polling Place Materials
Polling place materials include signs directing voters to polling places and informing them of their rights, name badges showing the languages each poll worker speaks, posters advising voters of Department services offered in languages other than English, and other materials such as voting instructions, explanations of voting machine messages, and ballot secrecy folders.
Election publications include informational notices that appear in a variety of local newspapers providing important information about upcoming elections and related deadlines.
Voter Outreach and Education Materials
Voter outreach and education materials include flyers and posters featuring key election deadlines, information about what is on the upcoming ballot, services for voters with disabilities, the restored right to register and vote after a felony conviction, and opportunities to serve the San Francisco community as a poll worker.
Online Tools and Information
The Department’s website offers an array of digital services and information in English, Chinese, Spanish, and Filipino, allowing voters to access their registration details, view their Voter Information Pamphlet, apply to vote by mail, track the status of their vote-by-mail ballot, find their polling place, or request translated materials.
Other Informational Materials
Other materials the Department produces include voter notices, applications, and forms to communicate important registration and election information.
Year-Round Assistance and Outreach
To support voters with limited English proficiency throughout the year, the Department employs year-round bilingual personnel and recruits additional bilingual staff during an election. Our bilingual staff members answer voter questions and provide outreach and customer service in a variety of languages, helping potential voters register to vote, find their polling place, and access translated election materials.
The Department develops long-term community outreach plans and offers programs to residents at neighborhood events throughout San Francisco. Year-round outreach focuses on:
- Increasing community access to election information and services, specifically for monolingual Chinese-, Spanish-, and Filipino-speaking voters
- Attracting new voters, specifically those between the ages of 18 and 24
- Engaging voters from communities with historically low turnout
- Recruiting poll workers, particularly those who are bilingual, to serve on Election Day
Election Day Assistance
On Election Day, the Department provides service to voters in multiple languages in a variety of ways.
Poll workers, including those who are bilingual in Chinese, Spanish, Filipino, Korean, Japanese or Vietnamese, help all voters to cast their ballots privately and independently. To assign bilingual poll workers to polling places where voters are likely to need their assistance, the Department uses criteria from various sources, including information provided by voters regarding their language preference or country of birth, data provided by the California Secretary of State, and input from organizations that work closely with minority-language communities throughout San Francisco.
To ensure compliance with language access and other requirements, the Department hires and trains nearly 100 field support staff to assist poll workers and serve as liaisons between polling places and the Department. Field support staff monitor all San Francisco polling places to ensure translated materials such as signs, voting instructions, ballots, and other materials are visible and available, as required by law.
City Hall Voting Center
Beginning 29 days before every election, the Department opens its Voting Center in City Hall. All San Francisco voters are welcome to visit the Voting Center to register to vote, update registration, pick up or drop off a ballot, or request a replacement ballot.
The City Hall Voting Center offers bilingual ballots, Voter Information Pamphlets, and assistance in English, Chinese, Spanish, and Filipino. The Voting Center also offers ballot facsimiles in Burmese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese.
During the two months leading up to Election Day, and from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day, the Department supplements its year-round multilingual telephone and email support staff with a dedicated phone bank comprised of employees who are fluent in English and Chinese, Spanish, or Filipino. The Department also uses a service to provide interpreter assistance over the phone in over 200 languages.
The phone bank is open during regular business hours and, during the two weekends prior to Election Day, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Partnership with Community Organizations
To ensure strong community connections, the Department fosters ongoing relationships with over 400 community partners, leveraging their expertise and connections to help the Department reach target populations of voters and potential voters. The Department seeks advice from these trusted sources and relies on their input to guide outreach efforts and connect with communities using culturally competent methods.
For more information about our community partners, visit Participate in Advisory Committees.
Language Accessibility Advisory Committee
In Fall 2017, the Department created a Language Access Advisory Committee (LAAC), comprised of community members who will provide input on the Department’s services and ways to increase education and engagement opportunities for minority-language communities throughout San Francisco.
If you would like to join the LAAC, or for more information, visit Participate in Advisory Committees.