By Andrea Karshan
Brooklyn politicians praised Mayor Bill de Blasio‘s announcement today of the launch of voter registration forms in five new languages: Russian, Urdu, Haitian Creole, French and Arabic.
The announcement was made at the Homecrest Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, 2525 Coney Island Avenue – a thriving mainly Russian and former Soviet Union immigrant neighborhood.
According to NYC.gov nearly half of all New Yorkers speak a foreign language at home. There are over 200 languages spoken in New York. According to 2014U.S. Census Bureau survey, 1,102,896 people in Brooklyn spoke a language other than English. Of the number that spoke another language, 125,877 spoke Russian, 21,894 spoke Urdu, 65,585 spoke French Creole and 26,784 spoke Arabic.
“No one should be disenfranchised because of their language,” said de Blasio. “These voter registration forms in five new languages will help us involve even more New Yorkers in the voting process. New York is a city of immigrants, and these forms will help New Yorkers of every background cast their ballots on Election Day.”
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said with these new voter registration forms, the city is empowering more of the diverse communities to vote, which in turn strengthens the vibrancy of democracy.
“Forms written in Arabic, French, Haitian Creole, Russian, and Urdu will allow the voices of immigrants in this city to be heard, especially the thousands of Brooklynites who live in these languages every day. Every citizen has a right to be engaged in civic life, no matter what their mother tongue may be,” he said.
State Senator Roxanne J. Persaud(Canarsie, East New York, Brownsville, Mill Basin, Bergen Beach, Marine Park, Flatlands, Mill Island, Georgetown, Ocean Hill) said New York City continues to grow as a multi-cultural society, the different languages spoken by our citizens grows as well.
“The launch of the voter registration forms in five new languages: Russian, Urdu, Haitian Creole, French, and Arabic now reflects the rich diversity of our community,” said Persaud.
State Senator Marty Golden(Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge, Gravesend, Marine Park) said he has long supported and advocated for legislation that would make voter registration materials available in more languages. “ Now, more American citizens, regardless of the language they speak, will be able to participate in the process. This truly reflects the greatness of our democracy,” said Golden.
Assembly Member Steven Cymbrowitz(Sheepshead Bay, Brighton Beach) said until today, the battle to make the voting process accessible to more non-English speaking New Yorkers has been a frustrating one that’s spanned many years and several administrations.
“I’m grateful to Mayor de Blasio for taking this bold step to ensure that many more thousands of New Yorkers have the ability to participate in the democratic process. I’m equally pleased that the mayor chose to make this announcement in my district, where so many Russian-Americans will be positively impacted,” said Cymbrowitz.
Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte (Flatbush, Ditmas Park) said local communities and advocates have been asking for this change for years. This district is a highly populated immigrant district with Haitian-Creole being the first spoken language for many of the residents so this small change makes a big difference, she said.
“I am personally proud as this addresses one of the voting rights bills that I introduced on the state level, which sought to meet the need of districts with high Haitian-Creole speaking populations throughout New York State. It is no another way that the Mayor is making good on his promise to make New York a more inclusive city, especially and most importantly to new Americans whose voting rights are being protected and preserved,” said Bichotte.
Assembly Member Helene Weinstein(Flatlands, Sheepshead Bay) said for far too long, potential voters for whom English is a second language have been disenfranchised because voter registration forms have been unavailable to them in their native tongue.
“I applaud the New York City Board of Elections for making these new forms available, and look forward to working with them to remove remaining barriers that prevent voters from fully exercising their right to vote,”she added.
Assembly Member Pamela Harris (Coney Island, Bay Ridge) said lawmakers must do more to create an inclusive voting process, and that starts with being able to read and understand election materials.
“Today, we are one step closer to fairer civic engagement and giving more New Yorkers the opportunity to get involved in our communities,” Harris said.
Assistant Assembly Speaker Felix W. Ortiz(Sunset Park, Red Hook) said our elections system needs major improvements.
“People are not voting and many who try to vote are frustrated when they go to the polls. I applaud this effort to boost voter information by printing brochures and forms in many more languages. It’s a necessary and cost effective first step to reforming New York’s antiquated voting process,” Ortiz said.
Council Member Carlos Menchaca, Chair of the Committee on Immigration, said language must not be a barrier for eligible voters in New York City.
“I applaud Mayor Bill de Blasio for recognizing this truth and for providing voter registration forms in more languages. Doing so accelerates civic engagement in the immigrant communities that contribute so much to New York’s culture and economy,” Menchaca said.
Council Member Chaim Deutsch(Sheepshead Bay, Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach) said New York City is one of the most diverse cities in the world, with hundreds of different languages spoken.
“It is critical that nobody is excluded from exercising their democratic right to vote simply because of a language barrier. As the representative of a multi-lingual district, I provide funding for ESL classes, as well as doing educational outreach and offering social services and entitlement services for those who do not speak English as a first language. Providing voter registration forms in several new languages is an important step forward as New York City becomes even more inclusive and supportive of the cultural diversity that is all around us,” said Deutsch.
Council Member Mark Treyger(Bensonhurst, Coney Island, Gravesend) said as the proud son of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, the first Russian-speaking City Council Member, and the elected representative of many immigrants from all around the world, he applauds the administration for providing voter registration forms in five additional languages.
“With the low levels of voter enrollment and turnout that we see today, it is imperative that we continue to break down barriers to voter participation throughout the electoral process. The translation of registration forms is an important first step, and I look forward to working with Commissioner Agarwal and Mayor de Blasio on ways to extend this increased language access to polling places during elections,” said Treyger.
Council Member Mathieu Eugene(Flatbush, East Flatbush) said by providing voter registration forms to individuals in their native language, the city is making voting more accessible to the many different people that make up the city.
“New York has struggled with a low voter turnout—but it’s up to us in government to remove the barriers that prevent too many people from voting. The new voter registration forms available in Haitian Creole and French, as well as three other languages, will empower voters throughout our city and help ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to make their voice heard,” said Eugene.
Translated voter registration forms are available at http://www.nyccfb.info/.
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