City Council Member Mark Treyger (D-Bath Beach, Bensonhurst, Coney Island, Gravesend, Sea Gate) and a broad coalition of elected officials, advocacy organizations, and leaders from communities across the city rallied outside City Hall today, calling for increased interpreter services at Election Day poll sites.
The rally comes just a week after Treyger introduced legislation, Int. 1282, to ensure that, where necessary, interpreters would be provided at poll sites for the 10 most commonly spoken languages in New York City.
“In a city where hundreds of languages are spoken, where 40% of the population is made up of immigrants, and where nearly half of the population speaks a language other than English or English and another language at home, failing to provide adequate language access at polling places is nothing short of voter suppression,” said Treyger.
Currently, the Board of Elections (BOE) provides interpreters in four languages – Chinese, Spanish, Korean, and Bengali – as mandated by Section 203 of the Federal Voting Rights Act.
Treyger’s bill could expand those language services to include Haitian-Creole, Russian, and Arabic. The bill would also require that, when possible, interpreters be stationed inside of polling sites.
“Providing increased language interpreter services at poll sites is a step toward a more inclusive democratic process, one that leads to higher voter turnout rates by making voting easier and more accessible for more New Yorkers. Independently hired and trained poll site interpreters should not be conflated with campaign workers, because language access is not electioneering,” added Treyger.
Treyger was joined and supported by representatives from a diverse coalition of advocates, including Common Cause New York, the New York Immigration Coalition, the Arab American Association of New York, the Asian American Legal Defense Fund, African Communities Together, the Hispanic Federation, Yalla Brooklyn, Chinese-American Planning Council, the Haitian American Caucus, the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, and more.
Similarly the bill could be a major gain for the Haitian community in Brooklyn, that are an extremely politically active population in the center of the borough. Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte (D-Flatbush, Ditmas Park) who’s district makes up a significant portion of Haitian residents is pushing for passage of the legislation.
“Currently, only Chinese and Spanish interpreters are allowed in polls sites, even where they are unnecessary. By making voting information available in more languages and allowing interpreters to enter poll sites, these initiative increases people’s impetus to vote and their ability to make informed decisions,” said Bichotte.
The bill is quickly gaining support across the borough including from Borough President Eric L. Adams and Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Sheepshead Bay, Manhattan Beach, Brighton Beach), the latter representing a district with a high number of Russian immigrants.
“The rules requiring they stay 100 feet away from polling sites defeats the very intent of providing interpreters in the first place. Additionally, the expansion of language access is critical for a borough like Brooklyn, where 47 percent of residents speak a language other than English at home,” said Adams.
“People who speak Russian, Urdu, Creole and many other commonly-spoken languages have consistently felt unwelcome at the polls and disenfranchised from the voting process. This is insulting and unacceptable, and has been so for a very long time. I’m hopeful that Treyger’s legislation will hold the BOE accountable for ensuring that New Yorkers who are more comfortable with another language can participate fully in our democracy. All New Yorkers deserve a voice in our government,” said Cymbrowitz.
City Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D-Sunset Park, Red Hook) denounced the lack of language services and hopes the measure could level the voting field.
“Everyone who has the right to vote also has a right to interpretation to help them read and navigate the ballot. This is not rocket science, it’s Democracy 101. It’s disgraceful that a City as large and diverse as ours does not guarantee language access at the polls,” said Menchaca.
The rally comes just as BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan is under intense scrutiny following citywide systemic failures this past Election Day including aging electronic ballot scanners that largely failed to keep up with the high voter turnout and additional ballots in November.