ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The state attorney general's office has sent letters to 10 upstate counties advising them to accommodate Spanish-speaking voters from Puerto Rico as required by federal law.
Letters by Civil Rights Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke to the counties' election commissioners said the Voting Rights Act requires jurisdictions with significant numbers of Puerto Rican residents with limited English to ensure they can vote. Measures include making all voting materials and ballots available in Spanish and having Spanish-language interpreters available at polling places.
The law applies to citizens educated in American flag schools in Puerto Rico who are categorized as limited-English proficient.
The letters noted that counties without effective plans could face civil liability. Several had lacked Spanish translations on their websites. The counties are Erie, Monroe, Rockland, Dutchess, Ulster, Chautauqua, Schenectady, Sullivan, Montgomery and Putnam.
The website for Schenectady County was quickly updated to add translations of instructions and contact information after they received the letter Aug. 9. The site previously had a voter registration form in Spanish, officials said.
Democratic Election Commissioner Brian Quail and Republican Commissioner Art Brassard said they've had a few subsequent conversations with the attorney general's office, which has forwarded a draft memorandum of agreement establishing the benchmarks they plan to meet.
Twelve election sites in the city of Schenectady will be affected, and they intend to have Spanish and English ballots and "to the extent practicable" one poll worker proficient in Spanish at each of those sites on Election Day, Quail said.
"We're aiming for complete compliance by November," for the general election, Quail said. They won't have all the measures in place by the Sept. 13 primary, he said.
As interim measures, they are contracting for a translation service by phone and getting signage in Spanish on where to vote and how to use voting machines.
"We're basically converting everything we have so it's available in both English and Spanish," Brassard said.
There are 10 census tracts in the city of Schenectady where the population of Hispanic voters is about 10 percent or higher, though that speaks to ethnicity and not necessarily language, Quail said.
Statewide 2010 census data show nearly 19.5 million New Yorkers, 5.5 million of them whose primary language wasn't English. About 45 percent didn't speak English well.
"In order to realize the fundamental American principle of equal justice, voter access for every eligible New Yorker must be protected," Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said. "Working with our partners in government, we will continue to follow the law and take action to tear down barriers to full voter participation."
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