Op-Ed: E-Day in New York

Op-Ed Published in the Huffington Post

By Eric T. Schneiderman

 

Just days after Hurricane Sandy, New Yorkers are now preparing to head to the polls. Tens of thousands of voters are still suffering in the aftermath of the storm. Nonetheless, exercising the right to vote is essential to our democracy. My office is committed to tearing down unlawful barriers to voting to ensure that all eligible voters are able to freely cast a ballot.

Voters in communities that were the hardest hit by the storm should contact their local Boards of Elections for information on any resulting polling site changes or reassignments. Gov. Cuomo announced today that he will sign an executive order to allow people displaced by Sandy to vote at polling places outside their home districts. These residents may vote outside their home district for statewide races and for president anywhere in the state.

More information on polling site changes announced today in New York City can be found here. And information on polling site changes in Orange, Rockland, Suffolk, Sullivan, Nassau and Westchester can be found here.

Displacement of both voters and poll sites will undoubtedly present tremendous challenges. Unfortunately, these storm-related polling problems come on top of other long-standing hurdles faced by many voters.

Language has historically stood as a barrier for some voters seeking to participate in the electoral process. To that overcome this problem, my office recently sent letters to election officials in counties across New York, to help achieve compliance with the Voting Rights Act in the current election cycle. We have secured agreements with multiple counties that will be in effect on Election Day.

Specifically Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act provides that no citizen educated in certain schools can be denied the right to vote because of his or her lack of English proficiency. These provisions require not only a bilingual ballot on Election Day, but also bilingual voter registration forms, polling place notices, sample ballots, instructional forms, voter information pamphlets, absentee and affidavit ballots. Written materials must be translated accurately and assistance also must be provided orally. Bilingual poll workers may be required in certain polling sites. Our agreements with several counties across the state will help ensure that language no longer stands as a barrier between voters and the ballot box.

But, we know that more work remains to be done.

That's why my office will run an Election Day hotline that will allow voters to lodge complaints concerning language access, barriers faced by persons with disabilities and other issues faced by minority voters across the state. This hotline is part of my office's ongoing enforcement efforts which aim to ensure that all eligible voters have equal access to the political process. The hotline will operate for the duration of Election Day between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. Voters can call the Attorney General's Hotline at 800-771-7755 or email civil.rights@ag.ny.gov to report complaints to our Civil Rights Bureau.

The right to vote is one of our nation's most important civil rights. Even in these difficult times, I know that New Yorkers will overcome barriers both old and new to have their voices heard. My office stands behind them, and we will work to ensure that all eligible voters across our state are able to exercise their constitutionally protected right to vote on Election Day.

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