The NYC Civic Engagement Commission (CEC) will provide additional translation services in 11 languages at select poll sites during the upcoming June primary elections, with the aim of encouraging greater voter participation among New Yorkers with limited English proficiency (LEP).
Although some voters in City Council District 11 and District 15 will already be familiar with the still, relatively new electoral system of ranked choice voting, having participated in the recent special elections on March 23, the upcoming June 22 primaries will be the first occasion when the majority of New Yorkers will engage with this new voting system.
Organizations like “Rank the Vote NYC,” and others have been holding educational sessions across the city in recent months in efforts to prepare voters and explain the new system ahead of the June primaries, and it has been apparent from the questions raised during these sessions that the concept of ranked choice voting is not always immediately understood, even by mother-tongue English speakers. The availability of additional translation services at poll sites should, in theory, help simplify the ranked choice voting process for LEP voters, therefore.
Translation will be provided in Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, (Cantonese, Mandarin), French, Haitian Creole, Italian, Korean, Polish, Russian, Urdu, and Yiddish. The program will run on the last weekend of early voting (June 19 and June 20) and on Election Day (Tuesday, June 22). A full list of poll sites served, as well as the relevant dates, can be found at: www.participate.nyc.gov.
Dr. Sarah Sayeed is chair and executive director of the CEC and said the commission is deeply committed to ensuring that all New Yorkers, regardless of what language they speak, are able to vote in the upcoming elections. “Voting is an important part of civic engagement, and we want to make sure that this June, everyone can make their voices heard at the polls,” she said.
The commission’s language assistance services are supplemental to the interpretation that is being provided by the Board of Elections under the Voting Rights Act, which covers Spanish, citywide, and Chinese, Korean, Bengali, Punjabi, and Hindi in certain counties.
The commission’s poll site selection methodology utilizes data from the most recent U.S Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, as well as data from the NYC Board of Elections, to identify the poll sites that will serve the greatest number of voters in the agency program’s eligible languages.
New Yorkers are reminded that they have the right to bring an interpreter with them to the voting booth. This may be a friend, family member, or poll worker, but not an employer or union representative.
The CEC was created through the 2018 mayoral city charter revision commission. Its mission is to promote civic engagement in order to enhance civic trust and strengthen democracy, particularly for those who are underrepresented or have limited access. CEC’s poll site interpretation is one of its core charter mandated programs.
Phil Thompson, deputy mayor for strategic policy initiatives, said it is crucial that New Yorkers are educated and empowered to be active participants in their communities, economies, and elections. “The June primary will be one of the most consequential in decades, and all New Yorkers must be able to participate, regardless of their language access needs,” he said. “The Civic Engagement Commission’s interpretation services will help to make sure that this election and our democracy is truly inclusive and accessible for all.”
Murad Awawdeh is executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition and said because of the CEC interpretation service, millions of New Yorkers who speak a language other than English at home will now have access to the interpretation services they need to exercise their right to vote. “We know that our city is stronger when all New Yorkers can fully participate in our democracy without undue barriers or burdens,” he said Awawdeh. “The poll site interpreters program run by the Civic Engagement Commission is a success that we hope will be expanded in the upcoming budget.”
Meanwhile, Brooklyn Council Member Mark Treyger, who represents the Bensonhurst, Coney Island, Gravesend, and Sea Gate neighborhoods said having grown up witnessing the barriers faced by Russian-speaking New Yorkers in exercising their right to vote, he was proud to have proposed and worked with the De Blasio administration on the first, supplemental poll site translation pilot program in 2017.
“Under the stewardship of the Civic Engagement Commission, the program has gone from 2 to 11 languages, and increased the number of covered poll sites tenfold,” he said. “The Voting Rights Act is a floor, not a ceiling, and the incredible work the Civic Engagement Commission is doing ensures that language access is not an obstacle to voting, from producing translated educational and know-your-rights materials to providing poll site interpretation.”
Norwood News reported recently on outreach efforts by various Latinx organizations and elected officials taking place during a week of action with the aim of further engaging the Latinx community with the upcoming June primaries.