Back in November, the Montgomery County Board of Elections made a substantial effort to accommodate Spanish-speaking voters at certain polling locations, but according to the state Attorney General’s Office, it wasn’t enough.
Thomas Trace, a representative of the Attorney General’s Office, met with the county Board of Supervisors last week to talk about how the voting system could be made more accessible to Spanish speakers. The conversation was prompted by a memorandum of agreement sent out to several counties back in August.
“We looked at the makeup of each county to make sure that everyone was accommodated by their board of elections,” said Michelle Hook, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office. “We noticed Montgomery County had a large Spanish-speaking, Puerto Rican population.”
She said there were enough Spanish speakers in the county to require certain measures on the part of the county Board of Elections, some of which weren’t taken.
“There were some holes in their services,” she said.
Before the last election, the Board of Elections did work with Centro Civico, a Latino advocacy organization in Amsterdam, to translate polling place literature into Spanish. It also provided translators at four polling locations in targeted areas.
Dina Arroyo of Centro Civico said November was the second time they worked with the county to provide translators.
“We’ve been trying to do this for 20 years,” she said.
No one at the Board of Elections could be reached Wednesday, but Hook said they couldn’t fully comply with the memorandum without taking the issue before supervisors.
“They need approval for more money to fund the new services,” she said. “Since they have some time before the next election, we’re giving them some flexibility.”
While there were translators and some translated material, she said her office requires more. The Attorney General’s Office recently reached an agreement with the boards of elections of Dutchess and Putnam counties to provide better language access. The agreement ensures Spanish-speaking voters have access to translated election materials such as registration forms, absentee ballot applications, affidavit applications, public notices, polling place reassignment letters, sample ballots and the official ballot itself. It also requires the boards to translate information on their websites, employ Spanish-speaking poll workers and provide related training for poll workers.
Hook said the same is being asked of Montgomery County.
“They probably did not have bilingual absentee ballots or Spanish materials at enough polling stations, or special training for poll workers,” she said.
It seems like a long list of possibly expensive changes, but Trace said at last week’s meeting that any extra costs would be minimal and focused on new ballots.
Glen town Supervisor Lawrence Coddington, chairman of the board’s Education/Government Committee, said the issue will likely be ironed out next month.
“We have been complying with the Attorney General’s office,” he said.