Two Queens legislators have introduced bills that would assist immigrants from southern Asia on Election Day.
Companion bills by state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Whitestone) and Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck) would require the Queens Board of Elections to offer written language assistance in Bengali, Punjabi and Hindi. If passed in Albany, the rules would apply to ballots, polling place signs, voter mailings and information on the board’s website.
The legislators met with leaders of several south Asian communities last week during a press conference outside the Board of Elections building on Queens Boulevard in Kew Gardens.
“Queens’ strength is its diversity,” Stavisky said in a statement issued by her office. “We must do all that we can to facilitate the involvement of new immigrants in government, and that is why Assemblyman Weprin and I have introduced this bill.”
While India alone has 30 languages with more than 1 million speakers each, Josh Goodman, a spokesman for Stavisky, said in a telephone interview that they chose those three languages because they have the most native speakers in Queens.
In the statement, Weprin said Asian Indian natives in Queens County are newly covered under the federal Voting Rights Act, and that his bill will further compliance with the spirit and the letter of the law.
He also said the boards in heavily Asian districts already provide services such as translators for voters, but that more needs to be done.
“By providing written language materials in these three most widely spoken Asian Indian languages we are ensuring that voters have the resources they need when they go to the polls. This is one critical step towards increasing voter turnout at the polls and increasing voter access,” he said.
“Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial group in New York City and are naturalizing and registering to vote in increasing numbers,” said Jerry Vattamala, a staff attorney for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Dilip Chauhan, a member of Community Board 7, said the bills would, if passed, help people in the community participate more actively in the electoral process.
Albert Baldeo, Democratic district leader in the 38th Assembly District, said the South Asian population has doubled in Queens since 2000.
“As an American, nothing is more satisfying and fulfilling than casting your vote on Election Day and knowing that your voice is heard and it makes a big difference,” said Taj Rajkumara Democratic district leader in District 31. “The passage of this bill will enable a large number of South Asians to participate in our vibrant and dynamic democracy for the first time in their lives.”
Goodman said he had no figures as to how much the new materials would cost the board, though he said it would not likely be exorbitant.
Neither Weprin’s office nor the Board of Elections returned calls seeking information on potential costs to the city.