“A bad translation”: How Broward screwed up the Spanish version of the school tax issue – South Florida Sun Sentinel | Vette Leader

An inaccurate Spanish translation of a proposed school board tax already on Broward’s ballot is now raising concerns about whether it could affect people’s voting on the issue.

Broward voters head to the polls for early voting on Saturday – but as of Wednesday afternoon, more than 64,000 voters had already sent their ballots in the mail. In addition to state races, voters will also be asked to agree to a doubling of a special school tax.

But the Spanish version of the question translates “a mill” to “a million”. The Spanish version speaks of how the money would be paid for an administrator overseeing resources, not school police officers. And a part in Spanish meant to say “essential instructions” says “essential expenses” instead.

The Broward School District is asking voters to approve a $50 increase for every $100,000 taxable property value they now pay to $100 per $100,000 of their annual property tax bills. If approved, the tax would be used to increase teachers’ salaries, school security officers and mental health resources.

Some experts say there are three key misinterpretations of the English-Spanish versions that some voters rely on to make a decision.

In the correct English version, the question asks for a wealth tax rate of “one million” which is higher than the current tax of half a million. In the Property Tax Dictionary, a mill produces $1 in tax per $1,000 in taxable property value, or $100 per $100,000 in value. But the Spanish version literally translates “a mill” to “a million.”

“It’s a bad translation,” said Anel Brandl, a Ph.D. and Professor of Spanish and Linguistics at Florida State University. “I have a degree and didn’t know ‘Mill’. If you don’t know anything about taxes, you’ll read it as a million too.”

Marcela Arbeláez of Lingua Franca Translations, a translation company based in Coconut Grove, agrees. She said the sentence read as if voters were agreeing to a “million dollar tax.”

The issue of the referendum goes on to say that the funding will include school resource officers. School resource officers are the armed police officers who are on school premises to respond to an emergency. But the translation into Spanish is not, “not at all,” said Brandl. “I would never think of a person literally policing with a gun. It doesn’t mean that at all.” The Spanish version refers to an administrator overseeing the resources, she said. Arbeláez said the words may have been translated literally because “this job description does not exist in Spanish.”

There could also be a third translation issue: “Essential Instruction” in English translates to “Essential Expenses” in Spanish, Brandl said, though she quipped that it “makes no sense in English either.”

“It doesn’t read well,” Arbeláez said of the Spanish version. “When a Spaniard reads this, his brain starts pounding, like a shock.”

“This whole paragraph needs to be revised,” she said. “It’s too literal and doesn’t convey the exact meaning of the original source language, English, in Spanish.”

A Creole language professor at the University of Florida said there were no problems with the Creole translation on the ballot.

When asked by the South Florida Sun Sentinel, each agency explained how the Spanish wording was worded.

The Broward School District said the director of the polls office was responsible for the translation.

And the polls office said although it used an outside translation service provider to write the ballots, the school district had signed them June 30 before they were printed and finalized.

“Thank you for bringing this to the district’s attention,” said John J. Sullivan, the school district’s chief communications and legislative affairs officer, in an email to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “We are working to provide the Returning Officer with a translation of our language of choice to clarify the translation provided by their translation services.”

The electoral office, he said, “will then issue the appropriate notices.”

Sullivan clarified Wednesday that his office proofread the ballot language in English only, relying on the polls office for translations for Spanish and Creole.

“We will change our protocols in the future and provide the necessary translation for future electoral action,” he said on Wednesday.

The electoral office did not respond to repeated inquiries as to how it would remedy the situation or inform the public.

Election experts have some ideas for you.

Mark Herron, a Tallahassee-based voting rights attorney, said the polls bureau should post notices at polling stations and on its website starting Saturday to clear up confusion and explain, “here’s what it really says.”

“Nothing in the law says they have to do that, but that would be a way of dealing with it rather than letting the problem fester,” Herron said.

Herron also warned that now, whether the referendum fails or passes, someone opposing the results could challenge it in court. “The results are the results until they are somehow challenged and confirmed in court,” he said.

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A South Florida Sun Sentinel reader, Andy Von Dincklage of Fort Lauderdale, noticed the “million/million” translation issue and contacted the paper. Upon further investigation, the Sun Sentinel found some of the additional translation issues.

Von Dincklage, born in Argentina, speaks English, Dutch and Spanish. He said when he read his ballot he found the English version “completely misleading because ‘mill’ is tax jargon and most taxpayers will have no idea what is being asked of them.”

“A million” in the Spanish translation can be interpreted as “a million dollars divided among millions of residents” and is therefore “irrelevant to voters,” he said.

“Or maybe [the School District is] trying to raise $1 million. You can interpret that in many ways.”

In the Spanish version, von Dincklage said, “I thought it was a disaster.”

Contributor Brittany Wallman contributed to this report.

Lisa J. Huriash can be reached at lhuriash@sunsentinel.com or 954-572-2008. Follow @LisaHuriash on Twitter

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