Montgomery County to help Spanish-speaking voters
Board reverses initial rejection
MONTGOMERY COUNTY Concerned about potential litigation, the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors reached an agreement Tuesday with the state Attorney General’s Office over election accommodations for Spanish-speaking voters.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent letters in August to 10 upstate counties with large Hispanic populations, telling them to make more of an effort to accommodate Spanish-speaking voters at the polls. Schenectady County complied right away, signing a memorandum of agreement within weeks of getting the letter.
Four others have since agreed, but when a similar memorandum came before the Montgomery County board last month, it was voted down amid heated discussion.
“We didn’t have any issue with making voting more accessible,” said Glen town Supervisor Lawrence Coddington, chairman of the Education and Government Committee. “It just seemed like yet another mandate handed down by the state.”
In general, he said, the county is leery of signing binding agreements and mistrusting of state authority.
“You can’t just sign something without looking into it,” he said.
The memorandum sent out to Montgomery County by the Attorney General’s Office required that all polling places located in sections of Amsterdam where the population is at least 5 percent Hispanic have translators on hand, be stocked with Spanish-language ballots and that all voting literature be translated. It also suggested the Board of Elections website be translated, as well as all notices and other literature that are mailed out before an election.
According to Montgomery County Democratic Board of Elections Commissioner Jamie Duchessi, all requests were met by November’s election, except one: They did not send out translated notices of poll changes or acknowledgements of voter registration.
“We were in compliance with just about everything,” he said. “We just didn’t want to sign anything without consulting the county attorney [Doug Landon], and he suggested we bring it to the county board.”
The memorandum was voted down by supervisors in February, but subsequent meetings between county officials and the Attorney General’s Office proved worrisome.
“There was no threat of litigation,” Coddington said, “but there was the possibility of litigation, and we try to stay away from that.”
Since the agreement required so little — a few hundred dollars for new printed materials, according to Coddington — and removed the possibility of a lawsuit, it was passed easily on its second run at the full board Tuesday night.
“I think it was a good idea to sign,” Duchessi said, “just because we’re already basically in compliance.”
He said the Board of Elections will have to translate notices sent out for the next election, but other than that, very little will likely change.
“I’m sure we’ll be in contact with the Attorney General’s Office very shortly,” he said.
A copy of Montgomery County’s memorandum of understanding with the state Attorney General’s Office can be found on the Capital Region Scene blog at www.dailygazette.com.