Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Later this year, elections in the Village of Bloomingburg will look a little different. As the result of a settlement agreement between the Sullivan County Board of Elections and a group of Hasidic voters in the village, voting materials will be posted in Yiddish as well as English.
In a federal lawsuit filed in March 2015, 10 Hasidic voters accused the board of elections of religious discrimination when commissioners challenged the voter registrations of more than 100 Hasidic voters in 2014 and 2015. The county denies the allegations, but decided to settle the suit on Feb. 1.
In the settlement, the county agreed to take extra steps to prevent religious discrimination against Hasidim in Bloomingburg — namely, signs and ballots at the village hall polling location will be provided in Yiddish, and a federal monitor will be assigned to oversee any challenges to voters in the village.
The changes will not be implemented in time for the March 15 election of village officials, said new County Attorney Cheryl McCausland, but the county has begun to prepare for its April deadline to enact the changes.
On Thursday, McCausland said the county would submit a list of potential monitors to the voters' attorney by the end of the week. If the two parties cannot find a monitor they agree upon, the U.S. District Court will appoint one. The county will have to pay the cost of the monitor, McCausland said, but they do not know yet what that will be.
The county is seeking translation services to translate the ballots and other materials into Yiddish and redesign them to a right-to-left reading format, McCausland said. That cost is unknown until they secure a translator.
Bloomingburg will likely be the only voting district in New York that provides materials in Yiddish, said Tom Connolly, a spokesperson for the state board of elections.
Yiddish is not considered a minority language under the minority voting rights section of the federal Voting Rights Act, because its speakers are not a group Congress considers to have faced barriers in the political process. Therefore, counties are not required to providing materials in that language.
Even if Yiddish were a minority language, the need is measured by percentage of the county's population. The village of Kiryas Joel in Orange County does not have voting materials provided in Yiddish, because the village's voting age population is not a high enough percentage of the county's voting age population, explained Orange County election commissioner Susan Bahren.
Some voting districts in Orange and Sullivan County, as well as other counties across the state, provide materials in Spanish, which is a minority language under federal law.
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