Hispanic voters to get help in Schenectady County
SCHENECTADY COUNTY Think of it as the “Junta De Electoral del Condado de Schenectady.”
The county’s Board of Elections reached a deal with state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman this month in which the commissioners — or rather, comisionados — have agreed to make their operations more accessible to Spanish-speaking residents. Schenectady County was among 10 upstate counties with large Hispanic populations warned to improve access for minority-language voters and the first to take corrective action.
So far, the county has translated its website into Spanish and posted bilingual versions of various election-related documents. By the November general election, the two commissioners anticipate having bilingual ballots, voter registration cards, voter education materials and even translators in all election districts with a Puerto Rican population greater than 5 percent.
“This agreement will help ensure that residents in Schenectady County receive language assistance to ensure that they are able to cast an effective and meaningful ballot on Election Day,” Schneiderman said in a statement Thursday. “Schenectady County stands as a model for other Boards of Elections that are now working to develop language access programs that will ensure equal access for all voters and prospective voters, regardless of their proficiency in the English language.”
In August, Civil Rights Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke issued letters to election commissioners in 10 counties alerting them of a Voting Rights Act requirement for jurisdictions with significant numbers of Puerto Rican residents. Measures include making all voting materials and ballots available in Spanish and having Spanish-language interpreters available at polling places.
The letters noted that counties without effective plans to have Spanish translations on their websites could face civil liability. The counties addressed in the letter were Erie, Monroe, Rockland, Dutchess, Ulster, Chautauqua, Schenectady, Sullivan, Montgomery and Putnam.
About 5.7 percent of the 154,727 people living in Schenectady County identified themselves as Hispanic and 3.5 percent as Puerto Rican, according to the 2010 census. The city of Schenectady’s population of 66,135 people has the greatest concentration of Hispanics with 10.5 percent; among them, 7.1 percent identify themselves as being of Puerto Rican descent.
Board of Elections Commissioner Brian Quail said 11 districts in the county have a Puerto Rican population greater than 5 percent. All are located within Schenectady, which has 22 election districts.
High concentrations of Hispanics and Puerto Ricans live west and south of State Street, according district maps. These concentrations also extend to Vail Park, the Van Vranken Avenue corridor and the central State Street area.
Quail said not all the changes have been implemented and some will still take time. By November’s general election, he anticipates the county will be fully compliant with the agreement.
“We’ve been moving forward, but full compliance will be in November,” he said.
Fellow Commissioner Art Brassard said there is a cost associated with the changes. These costs, however, can be built into the board’s existing budget framework.
“We can meet these costs within the existing appropriation level,” he said.