Press Release

NYC Board of Elections Settles Lawsuit on Bengali Ballots in Queens

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)’s lawsuit against the NYC Board of Elections over the Board’s failure to provide Bengali ballots in compliance with the Voting Rights Act has been resolved. The Board read the statement of Asian Indian language assistance compliance onto the record at its meeting on February 11, 2014 and formally adopted these minutes on February 25.

“South Asian voters achieved a great deal of progress toward equality at the polls,” said Jerry Vattamala, staff attorney with the Democracy Program at AALDEF. “Before AALDEF’s lawsuit, Queens County had failed to provide Bengali ballots and did not have any written compliance plan. Since the suit, we have had the first elections with Bengali ballots and now have a formal writing outlining Asian Indian language assistance that we can hold the Board accountable to.”

In 2011, the Census Bureau announced that Queens County, New York was covered under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act for Asian Indian language assistance. As a result, the Board of Elections was required to provide translated ballots and language assistance in Bengali. After four elections passed in New York and the Board had still failed to fully comply with the law, AALDEF filed a lawsuit on behalf of Alliance for South Asian American Labor (ASAAL) and Chhaya CDC.

“In New York City, nearly 60% of Bengali-speaking residents are limited English proficient,” said Mazeda Uddin, National Women’s Coordinator of Alliance for South Asian American Labor (ASAAL). This lawsuit was necessary to protect the voting rights of this growing population. We are pleased with the results.”

The Board proposed a compliance plan in 2012 with interpreters and other translated materials for the April, June, September, and November Primary and General Elections. However, AALDEF’s poll monitoring during these elections revealed ongoing failures, including too few interpreters at poll sites and missing signs identifying interpreters.

The formal settlement provides final written assurance that much needed assistance will be brought to Asian Indian voters in Queens, New York.

Download the letter >


Ujala Sehgal
212.966.5932 x217