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Queens Chronicle

Election language bill stumps pols on math

Sponsors don’t know cost; BOE silent

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Posted: Thursday, June 21, 2012 10:30 am

“FISCAL IMPLICATIONS: Minimal to state.”

The phrase is taken directly from bill S7204, sponsored by state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky, which would require the Board of Elections in Queens to provide written ballots, voting instructions and voting mailers in Bengali, Punjabi and Hindi, three South Asian languages spoken by an increasing number of borough citizens who are eligible to vote.

What neither Stavisky (D-Whitestone) nor Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck), who authored a companion bill in the Assembly, can tell anyone is just how much the measure would cost the BOE in a city where after-school programs are targeted for elimination; libraries are facing a 25 percent cut; and the mayor is considering eliminating 20 fire companies.

Weprin said that the BOE already pays to provide written assistance in numerous languages for citizens under the federal Voting Rights Act, and that Bengali came under that in Queens as a result of the 2010 Census.

A Stavisky spokesman said the other two languages were added though not required because the populations in Queens that speak Punjabi and Hindi are large and growing.

“You do have to have knowledge of basic English to be a citizen, but that doesn’t mean you have enough knowledge to understand laws or the language of a ballot referendum,” Weprin said.

He said he is certain the added cost would be less than $1 million. An after-school Beacon program in Forest Hills that is endangered costs more than $300,000.

“Even if the cost to the city is $300,000, it is a worthy investment,” Weprin said of the new materials. “You can’t put a price on democracy.”

He said state Republicans could have saved the $50 million by agreeing to hold state office primaries on June 26 rather than in September.

Officials at the BOE did not respond to multiple requests for interviews for this story.

Welcome to the discussion.