Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (at podium), surrounded by (from left) Assemblymembers William Colton and Helene Weinstein, State Senator David Storobin, Assemblymember Alec Brook-Krasny and State Senator Diane J. Savino, announced the passage of the groundbreaking legislation that he introduced requiring all voting materials, including ballots, to be translated into Russian. The announcement was made outside Tatiana Restaurant on the Brighton Beach Boardwalk.
Also celebrating the bill’s passage were leaders from the Russian-American community and elected officials including Assemblymembers Alec Brook-Krasny and Helene Weinstein and State Senator Diane J. Savino. The announcement was made outside Tatiana Restaurant on the Brighton Beach Boardwalk.
"This historic legislation marks the dawn of a new day for Russian-speaking New Yorkers who have been unfairly excluded from the democratic process due to a language barrier,” Assemblyman Cymbrowitz said. “For the first time, Russian-speaking voters will be able to walk into the polling place on Election Day, look at a ballot, and say, ‘Now I belong.’”
Senator Storobin added, "This legislation is long overdue and will finally ensure that Russian-speaking Americans' voting rights are protected here in Brooklyn and across New York State. I applaud my colleagues in the Assembly and Senate for taking this necessary action for our community."
The legislation (A.10609/S.7812) requires New York City and other municipalities with populations of more than a million to provide written Russian language assistance for voters. This includes ballots, signs, voter mailings, employee and volunteer training materials and information on the Board of Elections’ website. In New York City, voting materials are already translated into five other languages.
Assemblyman Cymbrowitz says he is confident that the measure will encourage more Russian-speaking Americans to become registered voters. Symbolically, the impact of the bill is also significant, he added.
“We have a large and vibrant community of Russian-Americans who have transformed in a very positive way the landscape of our borough, city and state. Yet with all of their achievements and contributions, despite working hard, paying taxes and setting down roots as countless other immigrant groups have done before them, they’ve gotten the irrefutable message that they simply don’t belong at the voting booth,” Cymbrowitz said. “Clearly, that was wrong. Now, with this legislation, we’re welcoming our Russian-speaking neighbors to their well-deserved place at the table.”
Assemblyman Brook-Krasny, the nation’s first Russian-American elected official, highlighted the importance of the legislation. “Today is a wonderful day for the Russian-speaking community here in New York,” he said. “We have won a hard-fought battle to ensure your ability to participate in your democratic duty with ease. For many years I have seen firsthand the confusion and anxiety many Russian-Americans face when they attempted to vote, and now we have managed to make their lives just a little bit easier by overcoming this language barrier. I want to thank all of the community organizations that were so instrumental in this process. It truly was a collective work. I want to thank my friend Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz for his tireless efforts to make this a reality," he added.
Assemblywoman Weinstein said, "It is crucial to our commitment to fair elections that we accommodate the large numbers of Russian-speaking New Yorkers by translating voting guides, absentee ballots and all election materials into Russian to ensure that all Russian-American New Yorkers can fully participate in the electoral process, regardless of their fluency in English.”
State Senator Savino stated, "Thanks to our efforts in Albany, Russians will fully be able to participate in democracy without any hindrance. It is our immigrants, most recently immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who constantly renew New York City. This keeps it the greatest city in the world in the greatest country in the world. These immigrants want to be engaged and improve their communities while preserving the traditions, culture and language of their motherland and we celebrate that desire with this law."
In 2009, Cymbrowitz was at the forefront of another Russian-language voting bill that was signed into law by then-Gov. Paterson at the Shorefront 'Y.' The Board of Elections ignored that law, claiming it didn’t have the money to print Russian-language materials. Cymbrowitz led an effort to get them to comply, but it became apparent that additional legislation was needed. "The strong language in my new bill, and the addition of mandatory Russian-language ballots, will force the Board of Elections into compliance," Cymbrowitz explained.
Cymbrowitz and Storobin are urging the Governor to sign the legislation.
“Everyone’s vote counts, no matter what language you speak. Everyone deserves a voice. This important and long-overdue measure will go a long way toward empowering the Russian-American community, and could serve as a prototype for legislation to be enacted across the nation to benefit people from many lands who have been unfairly disenfranchised from the democratic process,” Cymbrowitz said.