Bichotte’s Legislation Brings Haitian-American Voters In From The Cold

Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte
Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte

Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte (Flatbush, Ditmas Park) today introduced two bills that would further ensure tens of thousands of Haitian Creole speaking residents would be able to fully exercise their right to vote.

The two measures, A9727/S7241 and A9729/S7240, which State Senator Kevin Parker (Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood, Ditmas Park, Kensington, Windsor Terrace, and Park Slope), introduced on the senate side, will ensure that all relevant voting materials will be translated into Haitian Creole, and mandates that Haitian Creole speaking interpreters are present at poll sites where the Haitian voting residents make up at least 5% of the population in an Election District.

Bichotte said she introduced these bills in an effort to push election, and voting reforms especially in the wake of the recent Board of Elections debacle whereby voter records were being purged due to an outdated and inefficient system.

“This past Tuesday, in New York State’s presidential primary we saw hundreds of thousands of voters disenfranchised, but this is the reality for the tens of thousands of Haitian Creole speaking voters every election cycle,” said Bichotte. “The time for good governance is now in order to make the electoral process better for everyone, including new Americans, senior citizens and new young voters.”

Currently, when mono-lingual Haitian Creole speaking voters go to the polls they they are reliant on a family member or friend to accompany them because poll workers, and coordinators are not allowed to help due to the potential for influencing their vote.  Further, these heavy populated Haitian Creole Poll Sites are not assigned a Haitian Creole speaking interpreter.

“As a newly elected district leader in 2010, I approached the Board of Elections on this issue and was denied of pursuing or changing the law,” said Bichotte. “I was told that it was just ‘the status quo’. I want to see this change, and therefore I join hands with other colleagues such as City Councilmember Mark Treyger, State Assemblymember Pam Harris, and State Assemblymember William Colton who have been real champions for pushing interpreters for the Russian speaking population in Brooklyn.”

Bichotte said The NYS Board of Elections’ model and calculation to determine interpreters at poll sites is insufficient. Currently, the language has to be spoken by at least 5 percent of the population of NYS in order to qualify for an interpreter, which completely ignores communities that are densely populated with a foreign language other than Chinese and Spanish.

For example, in Brooklyn, in the neighborhood communities of Flatbush, the 42nd Assembly District has been assigned two translators — Chinese and Spanish. However, after surveying a number of poll sites, there is no Chinese and Spanish translation needed in those election districts. Bichotte said the model the State currently uses is not effective and does not address the issue around effective translation at a poll site in an electoral district that is heavily populated by Caribbean or Haitian immigrants.

“We are leaving out pockets of immigrant communities – primarily new Americans, who have contributed to this economy and who have a right to vote as citizens,” said Bichotte. “The outcome is that these voters are disenfranchised and unable to fully participate in our democracy.”

Currently, the districts of both Parker and Bichotte have the largest Haitian Creole speaking population in the State. The Creole speaking population is widespread and also includes communities such as West Harlem where Haitian immigrants initially settled in the 1960s, as well as the Brooklyn communities of Flatbush, Carnarsie, Crown Heights, and many parts of Queens County, Rockland County, Nassau County, Suffolk County.

Sen. Kevin Parker
Sen. Kevin Parker

“As someone who represents a Senatorial District that has the largest concentration of Haitian Creole speaking residents outside of Haiti, Assemblymember Bichotte’s legislation is crucial to protecting and ensuring the voting rights of the community members we were elected to represent,” said Parker. “This legislation is timely as we have seen many states move to enact voter suppression laws, and most recently, our own Board of Elections here in the City and its recent improprieties.  Coming from a community who has fought hard for everything and continues to struggle to maintain it’s right to vote today, I would be remiss if I did not sponsor the same-as legislation in the State Senate,” concluded the Brooklyn lawmaker.

Also supporting the measures are City Council Member Jumaane Williams, who in recent months passed legislation that increases language access by requiring city websites to include a ‘translate’ feature to enable constituents, whose first- or primary- language may not be English, to fully participate in city life and access services, just like everyone else.

“This includes one of our most precious commodities as citizens: the right to vote,” said Williams. “I commend Assemblymember Bichotte for introducing her package of legislation, which will make it easier for immigrants, particularly Haitian immigrants in our community, to vote. Instead of restricting the franchise, as many states, and even the U.S. Supreme Court have done – by gutting the Voting Rights Act- we should use every tool possible to ensure that people are able to vote. If not, we are undermining the very foundation of our democracy.”