Tag Archives: elections

60 Queens polling sites to have Bengali translations


| mchan@queenscourier.com


Ballots at 60 Queens polling sites this year will have Bengali translations, officials said, but advocates for South Asian voters are skeptical the move will crystallize.

“Our concern is that we were told in the past that Bengali ballots would be available, particularly for the November general election, and that did not happen,” said attorney Jerry Vattamala of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF).

“We took their word and we sort of got burned,” he added. “Enough is enough.”

A group of South Asian proponents of Bengali ballots filed a lawsuit against the city’s Board of Elections (BOE) on July 2 for its failure, despite assurances, to provide adequate bilingual language assistance in four elections since April 2012.

“We tried to work with them, but then we came to an understanding they weren’t going to do it,” Vattamala said. “We just want something legally enforceable — written confirmation that Bengali will in fact be on the ballot for the next election.”

AALDEF represents the suit’s three plaintiffs, who say the BOE has not complied with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They argue that the law requires the city to provide election information and language assistance to South Asian minorities.

Parts of Queens have been covered under a provision of the act since October 13, 2011.

“You would think it wouldn’t have to come to a lawsuit,” Vattamala said. “But these things are very reasonable, what we’re asking for.”

BOE spokesperson Valerie Vazquez confirmed the borough would have, for the first time, Bengali language assistance for the September 10 primary and November general elections this year.

The 60 polling sites are located mostly in southern Queens near John F. Kennedy International Airport and near Sunnyside, Woodside, Jackson Heights, Elmhurt and Bellerose.

Depending on the number of voters with limited English proficiency in those areas, some of them could also have Hindi or Hindi-Punjabi interpreters.

“It was always our intention to be in full compliance for the 2013 election cycle,” Vazquez said.

Bengali translations were never promised for 2012 elections, Vazquez said, because ballot vendors needed to make technical modifications to the system.

As an interim plan, the board hired full-time staff interpreters and provided a translated candidates list at each polling site in the covered areas, the BOE said.

Supporters of the change are now cautiously optimistic, but agree it is a “tremendous step forward.”

“It’s bringing democracy to more people in Queens,” said John Prakash Albert, board chair of Taking Our Seat, a nonprofit group aimed at empowering South Asians voters.

State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky — who co-sponsored legislation that would require the BOE to provide written Bengali, Punjabi and Hindi language assistance — said implementing Bengali ballots “will have a direct and measurably positive impact on the lives of our neighbors.”

The bill was introduced in the state legislature last year, but never moved out of the Senate’s Elections Committee.

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Mazeda Uddin, the national women’s chair for the Alliance of South Asian American Labor, said the elections board is “still lacking.”

“They’re not giving us everything,” she said.

Advocates are seeking binding confirmation from the BOE, a formal Bengali language assistance compliance plan and an agreement to meet with a Bengali language advisory group.

“Last election, they promised me,” Uddin said. “This is the most important for our community. Our people can’t choose the right candidate for lack of access. So many voters can’t vote.”

 

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Lancman to vie for Gennaro’s City Council seat


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

A state lawmaker is looking to take his legislative know-how to City Hall.

Assemblymember Rory Lancman officially announced his candidacy for City Council on Monday, November 19. The Democratic hopeful will seek to head the 24th Council District, which currently stretches from Fresh Meadows to Jamaica and is led by outgoing Councilmember James Gennaro.

“The city faces tremendous challenges in terms of the economy, the education system,” said Lancman, 43. “There’s going to be a real need for people who have legislative experience and the energy to try to tackle these issues head on, so I’m throwing my hat in the ring.”

Lancman, who decided not to seek re-election after serving the assembly for six years, had been on the fence about making a run to join the city’s lawmaking body since his failed congressional bid back in June.

But the “tremendous turnover in city government” next year — including the mayor and half of the City Council — made the decision easier, Lancman said.

“It’s going to be a very, very exciting time for the city, where the slate of government is going to be wiped clean,” he said.

Lancman said shaping city policy outweighed other options he considered for the “next chapter” of his life, which included going back to being a full-time lawyer or working in the nonprofit world.

“I really thought about what I really wanted to do in the next chapter of my life, what would give me satisfaction,” he said. “What really excites me about getting up every morning is being in public service. That is the most exciting thing for me.”

The lure of the open seat has already drawn in Martha Taylor, 72, who has declared her candidacy in the race to replace Gennaro. The lawyer from Jamaica Estates is also the Democratic District Leader in the 24th Assembly District, president of the Jamaica Estates Association and vice chair of Community Board 8.

City Council elections take place next November. A primary date has not yet been set.

Board of Elections bounces hopefuls from ballot


| mchan@queenscourier.com


Three northeast Queens assembly hopefuls had their election dreams squashed after the city’s Board of Elections (BOE) tossed them off the primary ballot.

Democrat John Scandalios, who was vying to replace Assemblymember Grace Meng in the Flushing-based 40th District, had an insufficient number of signatures and was bumped off the September 13 primary ballot, according to results of the BOE’s July 31 ballot challenge hearings.

William Garifal Jr. — one of two Republican runners in the 25th Assembly race — and Lauren Whalen-Nelson, who had hoped to take on current Assemblymember Ed Braunstein in the 26th District, also got the boot due to lack of valid petitions.

Each contender had until July 12 to circulate at least 500 required designating petitions, according to the BOE.

Democrats Ron Kim, Ethel Chen, Myungsuk Lee, Yen Chou and Martha Flores-Vasquez and Republicans Phil Gim and Sunny Hahn will battle it out next month in the 40th District, as will Democrats Jerry Iannece and Nily Rozic in the 25th District. With Garifal’s expulsion, Republican candidate Abe Fuchs in the 25th District will sail through to November’s general election.

State Senator Tony Avella will also not see a challenger until November, when he will face off with Republican contender Joseph Concannon in the 11th District. But State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky in the 16th District can expect a primary fight from Democratic opponent John Messer. Both had enough signatures to make it through until September, despite allegations from Messer’s camp saying Stavisky submitted fraudulent signatures. The winner will take on Republican candidate J.D. Kim.

Braunstein is looking at an uncontested re-election if the Queens County Republican Party declines to file an appeal on behalf of Whalen-Nelson. GOP chair Phil Ragusa said the County was considering the move but was not yet sure.

“We don’t want to disenfranchise the voters of the 26th Assembly district,” Ragusa said. “In an election, you should have both parties represented.”

Whalen-Nelson was seeking to run as a substitute for Tim Furey, a candidate who originally planned on taking on the incumbent but later declined the line, Ragusa said.

Furey, who had unsuccessfully tried to unseat Assemblymember David Weprin in the 24th District in 2010, was not the first this year to bow out of the 26th District race despite being backed by the Queens GOP.

The GOP originally pushed to pit Ralph Cefalo against Braunstein, but the Malba resident ultimately chose not to enter the race, citing personal matters, Ragusa said back in June.

But the County chair said declinations were nothing new.

“There’s a time to decline. This isn’t the first time this happened. It’s how Joe Crowley became the congressman. It’s done all the time,” he said.

Meanwhile, Scandalios lambasted the “forces against him” — opponent Yen Chou, the Queens County Democratic Party and the BOE — for throwing him off the ballot.

The former comic book store owner said the BOE gave him “false information” while he fought objections from the Queens Democrats and “corrupt data” by BOE clerks.

Scandalios can appear on the ballot in the general election if he runs on another line and gathers 1,500 signatures from within the district by August 26, according to the BOE.

“Eventually, I will be elected,” Scandalios said.