When New York voters go to the polls for the primary on Sept. 10, South Asians in Queens will for the first time find ballots translated into Bengali, the first new language to be introduced at city polling booths in more than a decade, election officials said. The addition of Bengali-language ballots at 60 polling sites in Queens comes nearly two years after the federal government ordered the city to provide language assistance to South Asian minorities under a provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The federal government had previously ordered the city’s English ballots to be translated into Spanish, and more recently Chinese, in 1993, and Korean, in 2001. The delay in the appearance of Bengali ballots prompted advocates for South Asian voters to sue the city’s Board of Elections on Tuesday over what they called its repeated failure to provide adequate language assistance in elections until now.
“The Board’s bureaucratic foot-dragging has prevented many Bengali-speaking Americans with limited English proficiency from being able to fully exercise their right to vote,” said Seema Agnani, executive director of the Chhaya Community Development Corporation, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The Supreme Court last week struck down the part of the Voting Rights Act that has forced New York to seek federal approval for any proposed electoral change since the early 1970s. But other provisions of the act, which remain intact, continue to require the city to provide bilingual assistance. City election officials have said the ruling, which helps the city move ahead with a contentious plan to redeploy old lever voting machines in the primary, would not delay their plan to roll out Bengali ballots.