Boro translators lessen voters’ problems at polls

By Alexander Dworkowitz

At the Rosenthal Senior Center in Flushing Tuesday, the Board of Elections provided eight translators for voters using the nine voting booths, offering assistance in Chinese, Korean and Spanish.

“We usually have a Russian translator, but she isn’t here today,” said Henry Heath, Board of Elections coordinator at the senior center.

Nine translators also manned PS 20, another voting center in Flushing.

They were all needed. With the Asian population in Flushing nearly doubling since 1990, many recent immigrants have encountered troubles understanding ballots in recent elections.

“We’ve found many different problems, particularly with those who don’t speak English and who are asked for identification,” said Sinyen Ling, a staff attorney for the Asian American Legal Defense Fund. Ling was one of several employees of the fund who conducted a poll documenting language assistance, voting problems and discrimination at voting sites. “Sometimes people are asked for a green card, which is illegal,” she said.

“There are always problems,” said Henry Tan, Board of Elections coordinator at PS 20. “People didn’t register for parties, people do not find a name in the book, people didn’t register.”

Tan also said that because of the confusion created by the World Trade Center disaster, the Board of Elections could not mobilize as many workers as it had two weeks earlier for the primary originally scheduled for Sept. 11, the day of the terrorists’ attacks. The primary was cancelled after polls had been opened for several hours.

“They didn’t have time to notify people” about the new date, said Tan.

Despite fewer inspectors at PS. 20, Tan said he believed the Board of Elections provided enough workers, especially since voter turnout seemed lower than usual in light of the World Trade Center disaster.

While voting problems in Flushing centered on language difficulties, John Baxter, an Independence Party candidate campaigning for Copuncilwoman Vivian Cook’s (D-South Ozone Park) seat, said poll workers were not allowing people to vote in the Independence Party primary, which was conducted by paper ballot.

“I went in to vote, and they told me you can’t vote, there’s only Democrats and Republicans voting today,” said Baxter. “I said, ‘No, I’m voting today, I have a primary with Joann Ariola.’ They didn’t know what I was talking about.”

Although only Baxter’s name was listed on the party’s primary ballot, Ariola was waging a write-in campaign for the Independence Party nod, a contest that could easily be determined by only a few votes. But Baxter said poll workers were unaware of the race.

“They were sending everyone away,” Baxter said. “They were telling them you can’t vote today.”

The primary is a significant race for the Independence Party, which has traditionally cross-endorsed major party candidates but is now trying to place party members on the ballot in as many of this year’s council races as possible.

Gerald Everett, chairman of the Independence Party of Queens, also complained that some polling sites did not have enough paper ballots, while others were missing the proper envelopes for the ballots.

Reach Reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 141.

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