County working to aid voters
FONDA – Montgomery County Education and Government Committee members heard last week about how the county is working to make voting easier for Spanish-speaking residents.
In August, the New York Attorney General’s Office sent letters to 10 upstate counties telling them to accommodate Spanish-speaking voters from Puerto Rico as required by federal law – specifically, the Voting Rights Act.
Thomas Trance of the state Attorney General’s Office came to a meeting Tuesday to talk about the law, and how Montgomery County is coming into compliance with it.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice website – www.justice.gov – “Section 4(e) [of the Voting Rights Law] provides that the right to register and vote may not be denied to those individuals who have completed the sixth grade in a public school, such as those in Puerto Rico, where the predominant classroom language is a language other than English.”
Trance said in jurisdictions with a significant number of voters from Puerto Rico, complying with the law would require a translation of voting materials and interpreters to be provided.
“The [county Board of Elections] has made a commitment to implementing a language-access plan and [a] memorandum of agreement outlines the steps necessary to achieve compliance,” Trance said.
The county now has a Spanish translation on the county’s Board of Elections website. The county also will provide translated ballots in election districts that have a certain percentage of voters from Puerto Rico.
Terrance J. Smith, the Republican election commissioner for Montgomery County, said the county is working with Centro Civico – a Latino not-for-profit organization based in Amsterdam – to make sure voters are accommodated. Translators and directions for the ballot in Spanish will be provided by Centro Civico, he said.
Smith said he also will search for qualified bilingual election inspectors to hire.
Amsterdam 3rd Ward Supervisor Ronald Barone was curious about how the program would be paid for.
“[Complying with the law] would be another burden on the taxpayers,” Barone said
Trance said the costs would be minimal.
“The biggest cost would be the ballots,” Smith said.
Amsterdam, with a number of residents from Puerto Rico, may receive these ballots. However, Smith said, the number of those voters per election district still needs to be determined.