“Shanda” (Disgrace): NY Assemblyman Calls for Election Materials in Yiddish


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With 2016 approaching, election offices across the country are making their preparations – which for a growing number, includes preparing to translate ballots and election materials into languages other than English for voters who need them. In New York, however, a New York Assemblyman says one population who needs assistance isn’t getting it: Yiddish speakers. JPUpdates has more:

On Dec. 7, NY Assemblyman Dov Hikind issued a letter to Board of Elections president Michael Michel, urging Michel to include voter registration materials in Yiddish. Hikind’s concern was spurred by voter registration forms mailed to his office. Though the forms included numerous languages, Yiddish was not among them.

“There are voter registrations forms in Bengali, why not Yiddish?” Hikind asks.

“Everyone talks about how important it is to register to vote,” he says. “There are thousands of Yiddish-speakers in my district and New York State.”
 Hikind went on to address the importance of Yiddish as a language spoken by countless local residents.

“I invite you to take a look at any newsstand near my office,” he wrote, “where you will see dozens of Yiddish language newspapers, magazines, and other publications attesting to the vibrancy and every day usage of the language.”

Hikind noted that election materials are already available in other languages and questioned why Yiddish continues to be excluded:

“As another Election Day draws closer, ballots and other materials generated by the Board of Elections, as well as information on the website, will continue to be displayed only in Bengali, Chinese, Korean, and Spanish. The voter registration handbook was even translated into Russian.”

In his letter, Hikind described the lack of Yiddish materials as  “a shanda—a disgrace—and totally unacceptable.”

Hikind also affirmed his belief that “All New Yorkers should have access to the same services and the same opportunities. It is with this in mind that I write to request that the NYC Board of Elections translate voting materials, especially voting registration forms, into Yiddish.”

In Hikind’s view, voter registration forms in Yiddish would “encourage native speakers of the language to register to vote by making the process more comfortable, inviting, and  user-friendly.”

Hikind stressed the need to “expand voter registration opportunities to the thousands of Kings County [Brooklyn] residents whose primary language is Yiddish, especially in communities in my district such as Borough Park and Midwood, as well as Crown Heights, Kensington, and Williamsburg.”

Language assistance is governed by a host of federal and state laws – with federal requirements under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act slated to update after the 2016 elections using census data. State requirements can be more expansive and require legislative action. Interestingly, the New York City Council already makes Yiddish sample ballots available in specific Brooklyn districts – suggesting that there is indeed demand for materials in that language. Preparing such materials can be a challenge for election offices, which have to balance legislative requirements for ballot content with the need to ensure that translations are not just literally correct but actually usable by speakers of that language.

It’ll be interesting to see how – if at all – policymakers and/or the Board of Elections respond to the call for Yiddish, especially since 2016 is essentially upon us.

Stay tuned.

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