By Naeisha Rose
The public advocate race has come to a close, but while most were focused on the growing cast of candidates, behind the scenes there was a lawsuit against the city’s Board of Elections leading up to the Feb. 26 election.
On Feb. 22, days before the election, lawyers for the Board of Election filed an injunction to keep interpreters for Haitian Creole, Yiddish, Russian and Polish speakers 100 feet from poll sites in order to keep an “orderly” atmosphere.
The injunction managed to upset a lot of lawmakers like Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte (D-Brooklyn) who has been working tirelessly over the past few years to get more languages interpreted for the ever-growing immigrant population in New York.
“I am very disappointed in the actions of the New York City Board of Elections,” said Bichotte. “Instead of choosing inclusion, the Board has continued to allow language barriers to hinder democracy. The truth is that voting can feel like an impossible feat for people whose first language is not currently represented by the Board of Elections.”
Bichotte introduced her bill on Feb. 26, and it requires that the board of elections for each county provides at least one interpreter for each of the six most common languages spoken by individuals with limited English proficiency residing in such county at all poll sites that contain an election district with at least 50 voting age residents with limited English proficiency.
“In a participatory democracy, access to the right to vote should be a priority. On Tuesday and for all other elections, all citizens should be able to vote with full comprehension of how to carry out that right,” said Bichotte on Feb. 25.
On Feb. 25, Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Eugene Walker denied the injunction that would have prevented the expansion of interpretation services for Haitian Creole and other limited English proficiency speakers and stated that the Board of Elections failed to prove why more interpreters would disturb voters.
Before the Board of Elections tried to file an injunction there were already provisions in federal voting laws that allowed language assistance for limited English proficiency speakers of Chinese, Spanish, Korean and Bengali languages.
Bichotte’s new law and its Senate counterpart would simply expand the amount of languages and interpreters for voters.
“I am happy that Brooklyn Supreme Court has rejected the lawsuit filed by the Board of Elections to stop interpreters from entering poll sites,” said Bichotte. “The movant challenged that the permitting poll site interpreters would begin a slippery slope that might lead to electioneering. That is not the intention of this cause. The Court chose the side of justice and to widen the access to participatory democracy.”
The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs website has provided a list of which poll sites would have the new interpretation services for the additional languages.