Assemblyman David Weprin, Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, and several South Asian community leaders held a press conference outside the Queens Board of Elections advocating for passage of their bill A9956/S7402. This bill directs the Queens county board of elections to provide written language assistance in Bengali, Punjabi, and Hindi, in addition to the languages currently available. If passed, this will include ballots, signs, voter mailings, employee and volunteer training material and information on the boards website.
Queens strength is its diversity, said Senator Stavisky, who represents a multiethnic district centered in Flushing. 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.
"Since Asian-Indians in Queens County are newly covered under the Language Assistance Provisions of Sec. 203 of the federal Voting Rights Act, this bill will only further the intention of the Department of Justices recommendations that written materials be provided to Asian Indian voters in Queens County, said Assemblyman David Weprin. 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 polls. This is one critical step towards increasing voter turnout at the polls and improving voter access.
Having ballots and voting materials in Bengali, Punjabi and Hindi will help more residents of Queens County exercise their right to vote, said John Albert, Board Chair of Taking Our Seat. These Americans want to have their voices heard at the polls and want to take on the responsibilities that come with their citizenship. This bill tells them that they are welcome at the polls and that America's democracy is built on the ability of every eligible person to effectively cast their ballot.
"This bill recognizes that we as a democracy should be empowering citizens to vote and broadening ways in which all Americans can participate in our political process. That is the core value of the Voting Rights Act, added Tito Sinha, Director of the South Asian Bar Association of New York. South Asian Americans are one of many dynamic and vibrant communities who make up Queens and this great City, and this bill will help the South Asian community to participate more meaningfully in our democracy."
Jerry Vattamala, a staff attorney at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, echoed that sentiment, saying, Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial group in New York City and are naturalizing and registering to vote in increasing numbers. AALDEF has worked closely with community based organizations and the Board of Elections to ensure that South Asian Americans receive the language assistance they need on Election Day. AALDEF is pleased that Bengali language assistance is required in Queens under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act and supports efforts to enfranchise thousands more registered South Asian citizens who require Punjabi and Hindi language assistance to participate in the political process.
This Bill will encourage and motivate South Asians to be more active participants in the American political process. As an American, there is nothing more satisfying and fulfilling than casting your vote on Election Day and knowing that your voice is heard and it makes a big difference. 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, said Dr. Taj Rajkumar, Professor and District Leader
"This bill will help the South Asian American Community to more actively participate in the electoral process. I appreciate Assemblyman David Weprin's and Senator Stavisky's commitment to standing with the South Asian American community by introducing this language access bill in the NYS Assembly," said South Asian Community Leader and Community Board # 7 member Dilip Chauhan.
The release of 2010 Census data demonstrates the tremendous growth of South Asian Americans and Indo Caribbeans in New York City and Queens County. From 2000 to 2010, the South Asian population in New York City more than doubled and existing demographic data also indicates that Queens County is home to the largest South Asian population of any municipality in the USA, a nation of immigrants, said Albert Baldeo, District Leader in the 38th Assembly District. The Stavisky-Weprin language access bill will ensure that we comply with the mandates of the Voting Rights Act to provide written electoral language assistance to this significant group, while they exercise their most fundamental right to vote.
Assemblyman Weprin emphasized the work that has already been done, continuing, "while we applaud the Board of Elections for providing written language assistance in Bengali and agreeing to provide translators for individuals that need them on election day, Senator Stavisky and I agree that having written materials in advance of the election helps to provide critical information to voters about candidates, helps them to know where to vote and improves access at the polls."
The growing South Asian community in Queens is highly focused on civic engagement. We must pass this bill, to make life easier for people who are simply trying to exercise their rights, concluded Senator Stavisky.