Denver’s Clerk and Recorder is mailing a correction to its ballot guides

Last week, the office said its contractor made a mistake in the Spanish-language version, but a later review found the error was made internally.
4 min. read
Paul Lopez is sworn in as Denver Clerk and Recorder on the City and County Building steps, July 15, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Last week, Denverite reported that the Clerk and Recorder's office had sent out errors in the Spanish-language Municipal Ballot Information Booklet. At the time, the office said contracted vendor United Language Group, was at fault.

But it turns out the Clerk and Recorder's office made the error, and this week, Paul Lopez and his staff are doing damage control. The office mailed out an explanation of the mistake across the city that could arrive in mailboxes as early as Tuesday.

The explanation also addresses other errors in the original guide like omitted comments in support of Ballot Measure 2I, which addresses library funding, and Ordinance 307, on funding sidewalks, which were received before the deadline, Clerk and Recorder Paul Lopez said in a statement.

It will cost about $191,000 to print and ship the correction, the Clerk's Strategic Advisor Lucille Wenegieme told Denverite on Tuesday. The cost of printing the original ballot guide was $187,000, which didn't include translation, staff labor or shipping.

Wenegieme said it was of the utmost importance to get the corrected materials in the hands of Denver voters and that most would be recieving it as early as Tuesday.

"Over the course of six days, there are many, many moving parts in making the booklet come together for English and Spanish readers. And this error has served to strengthen our commitment to ongoing improvement in service to the voters," Wenegiem said in the statement. "We are fortunate to have a strong translation vendor who understands this complexity and we will work closely with them for translation of future content as well."

The mistake was originally spotted by local communications consultant Alejandra X. Castañeda, who translated Denverite's upcoming 2022 Spanish-language voter guide.

The Clerk's guidebook repeated language about Referred Question 2J, which addresses how the city funds its Climate Action program, in its description of Referred Question 2K. That measure addresses how the city will fund homelessness services. The book also repeated language in its introduction to Referred Question 2J.

Last week, Wenegieme said the Clerk's office had received an inaccurate translation from United Language Group, which was not the case.

"When it was brought to our attention the TABOR & Local Ballot Issue Notice had duplicate language for the Spanish translation of measures 2J & 2K, in our haste to quickly address we incorrectly assumed the error was a translation issue," Wenegieme wrote in an email. "We were incorrect in that assumption and have since found the error was on our end in compiling the booklet."

The booklet is revised over 100 times, and the mistake took place in that process.

Nicholas McMahon, CEO of United Language Group, said the process is fast -- and his company's translation was correct.

"We provided an accurate translation - but the effort required both by the Denver and ULG teams is complex and difficult and completed in a time frame of hours," he wrote in an email to Denverite.

The Clerk and Recorder's office made a mistake in the November 2022 Spanish-language ballot guide.
City of Denver

Here's what Lopez wrote about the mistake in a statement a day after the story came out:

"The 96-page booklet that is issued ahead of each election is a highly technical, legally required document with a six-day turnaround time between the deadline for comment submission and the printing date to comply with state law," he wrote.

"Those constraints are an explanation, but they are not an excuse," he added.

"The bigger story here is not the tactical challenges of creating one pamphlet," wrote McMahon.

Translating voter guides, as he explained,  is about creating voter inclusion for vulnerable communities. And he sees the translated voter guide as a sign of progress.

"Specifically, here the Spanish-speaking communities are a major emerging force in US politics," he wrote. "They have had to battle significant challenges in getting equitable access with cultural and factual barriers that all too often exclude their voice from the conversation."

Ultimately Lopez owned the mistake.

"As the elected Clerk I assume responsibility for this error and for making sure voters get correct information," he wrote in a statement. "It is unacceptable to our standards of excellence, and I have asked my team to review all processes and procedures for issuing ballot information to ensure this doesn't happen again.

"We understand our responsibility as the local trusted source for election information," he added, "and we will continue to refine our processes to retain that trust."

This article has been updated to reflect that the Clerk and Recorder's office found other errors in both the English- and Spanish-language ballot guides and that the mailer it sent out this week addresses them.

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