Spanish-speaking voters in Bexar County looking for information online about the race to replace ex-Sen. Carlos Uresti were no doubt startled to find there was “election drainage” coming up instead of a runoff. That’s one of the bad translations created by Google Translate on the county’s elections site — it was still there Tuesday — prompting the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas to write a letter to Bexar officials, warning that the county could be in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act. Jacque Callanen, the Bexar County elections administrator, said all of the county’s departments use Google Translate online. The translation engine offers more than 100 language choices, from Albanian to Zulu and even Latin.
“The issue we have with that is that it generates translations that are literal and not always meaningful for the reader,” ACLU legal consultant Matthew McCarthy said.
In this case, the word “runoff” was translated as “escurrimiento,” which is Spanish for “drainage,” of water or nasal passages. “Escurrimiento de la nariz” means runny nose. A better translation would have been “la segunda vuelta” (the second round) or “el desempate” (the tie-breaker), which is what the Texas Secretary of State uses on its website and on printed ballots.