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Interpreters allowed in polling locations for public advocate special election

A judge's ruling comes as the Board of Elections has tried to challenge the city's attempt to add about 100 language translators to voting sites.

Demonstrators rally at Brooklyn Borough Hall Monday to

Demonstrators rally at Brooklyn Borough Hall Monday to protest the Board of Elections' lawsuit preventing additional interpreters from entering polling locations. Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

The city will be allowed to bring interpreters into polling locations for Tuesday's special election for public advocate after a Brooklyn judge declined to issue a preliminary injunction barring the language service on Monday.

The ruling came as the Board of Elections has tried to challenge the city's attempt to add about 100 language interpreters to voting sites in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.

The Board of Elections appealed on Monday afternoon and a judge declined to overturn the ruling. 

The de Blasio administration vowed in October to provide translators for Russian, Haitian Creole, Italian, Arabic, Polish and Yiddish. But Board of Elections attorneys have argued that a political administration cannot assign anyone to be inside a polling location, and that city-assigned interpreters must be more than 100 feet away from polling sites.

Currently, interpreters who have been hired by the Board of Elections are allowed inside polling locations.

"In the last two years [the program] has really run without a hitch and there’s no reason to believe it would change, just because the interpreters are inside," said Doris Bernhardt, an attorney with the city Law Department.

Lawrence Mandelker, an attorney who represented the Board of Elections, said the board wasn't against expanding interpretation services, but argued that allowing an administration to dictate who can be inside a polling location was a "slippery slope."

"We're a unit of government and we are charged with enforcing elections. And one of the reasons that bipartisan [organizations] are charged with duties or administering elections is to reassure the public that there is no partisan advantage," he said. "And it’s the nature of city government . . . that it’s viewed as partisan. That’s the nature.”

Judge Edgar G. Walker was unswayed.

“There is no reason to believe that the defendants will behave improperly in any way. Specifically, council stated that there’s no reason to believe that the defendants would engage in electioneering, the defendants would act in a manner that’s more destructive of voters than any other people who are allowed to be within the 100-foot perimeter,” he said.

The hearing followed a rally on Monday morning inside Brooklyn Borough Hall in which advocates argued that the Board of Elections should accept the help of added interpreters.

"It is absolutely unimaginable that the people who are running our elections do not understand that their job is to help voters, and that they should be grateful for the assistance of New York City, which is the government for all New Yorkers," said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, during the rally.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said that 47 percent of people in Brooklyn speak a language other than English in their homes.

"To not have interpreters there to assist in allowing a person to understand the ballot, understand how to navigate the process, what table to go to, how to communicate with the poll employees, that is another barrier to having a right to cast your ballot," he said. "We should be in the era of removing barriers, not adding barriers." 

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