City Limits: Language Access at the Polls, Explained
By Jeanmarie Evelly/City Limits
A patchwork of agencies, stakeholders and community groups help provide language-specific educational materials and translation services around city elections, what experts say is essential to making sure residents aren’t locked out of the democratic process.
New York City residents speak hundreds of different languages—as many as 800, according to some estimates. Almost a quarter of the city’s population, nearly two million people, are not proficient in English, officials say.
That makes New York one of the most linguistically diverse cities in the world. On Election Day, it can contribute to low voter turnout. “We’ve identified language access as just one of many barriers that unfortunately impact voters,” said Gauree Patel, senior manager of partnerships at the NYC Campaign Finance Board, which runs the city’s campaign finance system.
It’s also one of several government agencies, stakeholders and community groups that help provide language-specific educational materials and translation services around elections, what experts say is essential to making sure residents aren’t locked out of the democratic process. The need for robust language services isn’t just contained to the ballot box, they add—true civic engagement requires access to information well ahead of Election Day.
Several advocacy organizations also offer language-specific help lines for voters who have questions about the electoral process, or who want to report problems at the polls, including language access issues, voter intimidation and more. Groups like LatinoJustice and the **Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund **also train and deploy non-partisan poll watchers to voting sites to keep an eye out for disenfranchisement.