A.G. Schneiderman Announces Two Agreements To Help Ensure Language Access For New York State Voters

As Part Of Ongoing Statewide Effort, Rockland And Ulster Boards Of Elections Commit To Provide Translated Materials & Ensure Language Access Before Election Day

Schneiderman: Agreements Help Ensure That Language Will Not Be A Barrier To The Ballot Box

ALBANY – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced agreements with the Rockland and Ulster County Boards of Elections to help ensure that minority language voters are provided the assistance and materials that may be necessary to cast an effective ballot on Election Day. The counties will be taking steps pursuant to Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act, which requires that certain Spanish-speaking voters be provided bilingual ballots, bilingual election-related materials and language assistance at the polls. These efforts are a part of Attorney General Schneiderman's ongoing statewide initiative to ensure that these voters have equal access to the political process and do not encounter language barriers on Election Day. Last month, Schenectady County’s Board of Elections entered into a similar agreement.

“The right to vote is one of our nation's most important civil rights. The minority language provisions of the Voting Rights Act provide necessary safeguards and impose important requirements that are designed to ensure that all voters and prospective voters have access to the ballot box, regardless of their level of English proficiency. I applaud the Ulster and Rockland County Boards of Elections for working cooperatively with our office to develop effective language access programs that will allow all eligible voters to cast a meaningful ballot on Election Day,” said Attorney General Schneiderman.

According to 2010 Census data, approximately 5.5 million New Yorkers do not speak English as their primary language, of whom 45 percent speak English less than very well. These numbers include 2.7 million New Yorkers who primarily speak Spanish at home, of whom 46 percent speak English less than very well. The numbers illustrate rising language needs across our state. To that end, Attorney General Schneiderman’s office has undertaken a comprehensive examination of the language access efforts of close to a dozen Boards of Elections across the state that serve communities with significant numbers of limited-English proficient Puerto Rican voters pursuant to the Voting Rights Act. While some Boards have had existing efforts aimed at providing language access, in most instances, more resources were necessary to ensure that the needs of minority language voters in these communities were fully and adequately addressed. The Attorney General’s office is continuing to work with Boards across the state to identify steps necessary to ensure that they are able to meet the language needs of voters this election cycle.

Rockland County Board of Elections Commissioners Louis Babcock and Ann Marie Kellysaid, "The Rockland County Board of Elections is committed to providing an equal opportunity to vote for all citizens of Rockland County. We are pleased to have worked with the Attorney General's Office to expand our language access program and thereby expand voting opportunities for our residents." 

Richard Rivera of Hudson Valley Latinos Unidossaid, "Implementing a comprehensive language access program is key to ensuring that members of our community are able to fully and meaningfully participate in the political process. I am pleased to see County Boards of Elections and the Attorney General's Office cooperating to give our voices the chance to be heard."  

Cheryl Keshner of the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition said, "Providing bilingual materials and interpreters at the polls is a necessary step in complying with the Voting Rights Act and protecting the constitutionally guaranteed rights of voters. We are deeply gratified to see so many County Boards of Elections working with the Attorney General's Office to make sure these rights are respected."

The announcement comes one day before the deadline for registering to vote in the 2012 general election. The two Boards of Elections will ensure that voters have access to translated election-related materials, including registration forms, absentee ballot applications, affidavit applications, public notices, polling place reassignment letters and the Election Day ballot itself. The Boards have also agreed to recruit and identify sufficient numbers of Spanish-speaking poll workers for certain polling places on Election Day and enhance training for all election inspectors regarding the requirements for providing language assistance, and translate information presented on their website, among other things.

This initiative is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Monica Iyer, under the supervision of Civil Rights Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Janet Sabel, with the assistance of Assistant Attorneys General-in-Charge Vincent Bradley and Gary Brown. The Civil Rights Bureau of the Attorney General's Office is committed to protecting the voting rights of all New Yorkers. If you believe that you have experienced voting discrimination or encounter problems casting your ballot on Election Day as a result of a language barrier, contact the Attorney General’s Office at (212) 416-8250, civil.rights@ag.ny.gov or visit www.ag.ny.gov

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