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Language of Elections Scrutinized

Photo: Woodrow Wilson casts his ballot in presidential election, 1916. Courtesy: Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library Archives
Photo: Woodrow Wilson casts his ballot in presidential election, 1916. Courtesy: Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library Archives
September 5, 2012

ALBANY, N.Y. - State officials and nonprofit advocates are watching closely to see if New York's Latino voters are treated fairly at their local polling places this fall.

The state attorney general's office has sent letters to administrators in 10 upstate New York counties advising them to accommodate Spanish-speaking voters from Puerto Rico as required by federal law, including making all voting materials and ballots available in Spanish.

Jackson Chin, senior counsel for the group Latino Justice, says any unequal treatment at polling places will be reportable.

"A toll-free number so that on Election Day, and I think possibly even the day before, voters can call in to report problems."

On Long Island, an advocacy group points out that the website of the Nassau County Board of Elections offers no Spanish translation of essential voter registration information. County officials did not respond to a request for a response.

Cheryl Keshner, coordinator for the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition, says it isn't too much to ask for multilingual voting instructions on county websites.

"I don't think it should be that difficult. There are certainly programs that can be used to translate a website. You've seen them on many sites where there's a drop-down menu and one can click on that and get all the information easily translated."

Chin applauds the attorney general for sending the letters about the election language law to the 10 upstate counties.

"Jurisdictions where they have had an increased number of Hispanic voters and Puerto Rican voters, and I think that they made sure that those administrators - the election administrators - were aware of their obligations and would prepare properly for the upcoming elections."

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 reinforced the Voting Rights Act of 1965, ordering language accessibility in materials provided to voters, such as notices, instructions, forms and ballots.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY