Treyger on Interpretation Services

City Council member Mark Treyger, at right, in front of City Hall (Photo via Russkaya Reklama)

At a City Hall rally in December in support of a bill to improve and expand interpretation services during elections, New York City Council member Mark Treyger of the 47th District, who introduced the bill, expressed his concerns for voters and the work of interpreters at the poll sites. Like-minded elected officials from other boroughs of the city were present to support Treyger’s initiative. The majority of supporters came from districts where members of the community are limited English proficient, and where language barriers often become an obstacle for voters. Activists, leaders of community, and various youth and veteran organizations attended the event.

“One of my most unforgettable memories,” began the Council member, “took place at the poll site during the elections. An elderly woman, who also turned out to be a Holocaust survivor, asked for help translating the text of the bulletin, as she didn’t know English well enough to understand it. A Russian-speaking employee tried to help her, but a law enforcement officer came and nearly arrested her for it. I had to intervene, as the elderly woman really needed someone’s assistance! Yet who will help thousands of others who do not speak English very well? It turned out that those interpreters, who had been hired for the day, were standing outside in the rain, and they were not allowed to come within 100 feet of the poll site. The New York City Board of Elections has determined and set in place such a rule…”

Treyger sadly noted that such attitudes toward immigrant voters were not only disrespectful, but could also be considered negligent in relation to taxpayers and their money. After all, interpreters are professionally trained for their positions; they are getting paid to do their jobs. Yet they simply can’t assist those in need of interpretation services because they are supposed to stay outside on the street (…).

The new bill proposed by Treyger emphasizes that 40 percent of our city’s population are immigrants. It suggests that the Board of Elections take this into consideration, and finally stop ignoring immigrant communities who speak different languages. This is the time to give all voters equal opportunities to vote. In order to do this, interpreters should be allowed inside the poll sites next to those who really need them, instead of being outside on the street. (…)

An activist in the Russian-speaking community in Brooklyn, Bella Ahmechet, expressed her opinion about the situation: “When I see Russian interpreters outside in the cold and rain, and helpless voters inside the poll sites, only one word comes to mind: Discrimination. Before each election, politicians come to our community; they speak, talk about their plans and ask for our votes. Sometimes, however, they forget their promises. Yet today I have seen a politician, whose words are consistent with his deeds, who truly cares about the community. I hope this bill will pass into law before the next elections [the special election for public advocate] in February.”

All participants of the rally supported the bill proposed by Treyger, as it manifested a true concern and loyalty to the public and to the promises that were given to them (…).

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