Mayor Bill de Blasio, Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) and City Council Member Mark Treyger (D-Bensonhurst, Coeny Island, Gravesend) and the City Council yesterday announced additional efforts to make voting easier for limited English proficient voters.
Building upon the 2017 poll site interpretation pilot, the Administration will provide interpretation services at approximately 100 poll sites throughout Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island on Election Day, next Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Currently, the Board of Elections (BOE) provides interpretation services in certain poll sites in Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean and Bangla, as required by the Voting Rights Act. The Administration will add six more commonly spoken languages in the city including Russian, Haitian Creole, Italian, Arabic, Polish and Yiddish.
“The language you speak and understand should not be a barrier to civic participation,” said de Blasio. “Voting should be an easy task, and we’re upholding that truth by identifying and filling gaps in communities where translation services are needed. Whether it’s Haitian Creole, Russian or Arabic, we’re making sure that you’ll be able to participate in our democracy no matter what language you speak.”
“Voting should be easy and accessible. We need to address our city’s low voter turnout and make our democracy more inclusive, particularly in communities where systemic barriers exist. I’m proud to have advocated for and secured funds for a pilot program to provide interpreters for Russian and Haitian Creole speakers at 20 poll sites in Brooklyn last year, and prouder still of working with Speaker Johnson and Mayor de Blasio to expand the program this year to include more languages, activating and empowering civic engagement amongst more New Yorkers,” said Treyger, who pushed for the initiative.
These services will be available entirely at a voter’s voluntary discretion. Staff will be provided with a four-hour training that mirrors the BOE’s own training, including non-electioneering protocols, providing interpretation services, maintaining voter privacy, the voting process and New York City’s Election Day operations. Poll site project staff will operate at a minimum of 101 feet outside of a poll site, per BOE’s specifications, and will accompany voters into poll sites upon request. Staff will identify themselves by wearing pins with “interpreter” listed in English and the additional language they speak.
A number of Brooklyn’s Elected officials haild the initiative as a way to increase democracy and get new immigrants involved in the process.
“Our election system needs to be accessible to all Americans and these steps will ensure more New Yorkers may exercise their right to vote. I applaud the Mayor for working to expand interpretation services for voters who speak languages like Yiddish, Arabic, Polish and others,” said Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez.
“Voting is the crown jewel of our democracy. We should be making it easier to vote, not harder. I applaud Mayor de Blasio for this important initiative and encourage all citizens to exercise their right to vote on November 6th. It is, after all, our civic duty,” said Congresswoman Yvette Clarke.
“I welcome the introduction of interpreters at 100 of our City polling sites. I support all steps that will help ensure New Yorkers can fully participate in the electoral process, regardless of their fluency in English,” said Assembly Member Helene Weinstein.“Voting is a civic responsibility that many immigrants are eager to fulfill but often the language barrier makes it impossible,” said Assembly Member Steven Cymbrowitz. “Thank you to the Mayor and the Board of Elections for working to remove an unfair and unnecessary barrier and provide a pathway to equal representation for all New Yorkers.”
“Like the Mayor, I have also been trying to push similar legislation, such as A00312, to make voting materials and interpreters accessible to people fluent in Haitian Creole. We look forward to working with the Mayor and the Board of Elections Department in rolling out these pole site interpretation pilots,” said Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte..
“The more accessible we make the democratic process, the more participation we witness,” said Council Member Carlos Menchaca, Chair of the Committee on Immigration. “Given that voting is the most important power the people have to hold their elected officials accountable, providing interpretation at every poll site should be one of our top priorities. I commend MOIA and BOE for moving us further to this goal and plugging many of the gaps that exist.”
“Every citizen deserves the access to exercise their right to vote,” said Council Member Chaim Deutsch. “A language barrier should never prevent someone from being able to engage in their most fundamental civic duty. Inclusivity goes beyond words, it’s about really practicing what we preach and putting our money where our mouth is.”
“In a state and a country where many try to make it harder to vote, language cannot be another barrier. New York City recognizes this need, and we are taking positive, proactive steps to further inform the electorate and enable participation in this all-important election,” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams.
“I want to commend Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Corey Johnson, Council Member Mark Treyger and my colleagues on the City Council for their advocacy on behalf of our non-English speaking residents. The ability to vote is an essential part of our democracy, and it is not right when registered voters are unable to participate due to language barriers at their polling sites. The expansion of interpretation services is a necessary step in New York City’s efforts to increase voter turnout, and I applaud our leadership for their commitment to this worthy cause,” saidCouncil Member Mathieu Eugene.
“Providing language access at poll sites increases participation from our vibrant immigrant communities, which will lead to higher voter turnout and greater civic engagement. This will benefit all New Yorkers, no matter what language they speak,” said Council Member Justin Brannan.
City interpreters will be available from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., on Election Day, Nov. 6. In the lead up to Election Day, the Mayor’s Office on Immigrant Affairs will educate communities about these services.