More on AG Schneiderman’s inventive use of Section 4(e) VRA


Schneiderman’s inventive use of Section 4(e) of the federal Voting Act Act is an action will burst open an electoral floodgate.

I truly admire his “out-of-the-box” thinking but disagree with the statute’s application in those upstate counties. And I will lay why I think the state Attorney General is overstepping his authority in sending that notice to those ten upstate county boards of election.

Presently, the only counties outside NYC which are covered areas for Voting Rights Bilingual Election Materials are Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester. The language minority group for those areas is Hispanic, which includes Puerto Ricans.

Last April, Orange County signed a consent decree after the USDOJ found election officials had violated Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act (1973) by repeatedly denying Puerto Rican voters bilingual voter assistance. The Justice Department charged that Puerto Rican voters in Orange County were effectively denied the right to vote and therefore their meaningful participation in the electoral process was illegally thwarted.

Prior to Monday, not even the SBOE was aware of  the VRA Section 4(e) applicability in counties having Puerto Rican populations with limited English proficiency.

Statewide 2010 census data indicates that for 5.5 million New Yorkers English is not their primary language. About 45% reported not speaking English well.

For instance, Orange County has 67,000 Hispanics and 29,210 Puerto Ricans; Suffolk: 246,000 H/58,000 PR; Westchester: 207,000 H/41,000 PR; and Nassau: 195,000 H/30,000 PR. These counties, plus NYC, are covered by Sections 203 and 4(e) of the VRA [as verified by the SBOE].

Schneiderman’s order effectively circumvents the Voting Rights Act Section 203‘s five per cent (5%) citizen voting age population or 10,000 citizen voting age population belonging to a single language minority group and are limited-English proficient standard.

Schneiderman’s tries to fill in a gap left by the consent decree and the VRA in those 10 counties such as   Monroe County: 54,000 Hispanics and 38,900 Puerto Ricans; Rockland: 48,700 H/12,650 PR; Erie: 41,700 H/29,400 PR; and Dutchess: 31,000 H/11,984 PR.

According to the 2010 Census and the American Community Population Survey, the remaining six counties have much smaller Puerto Rican and Hispanic populations. And even smaller CVAPs.

Ulster: 15,909 Hispanics/7,191 Puerto Ricans;  Putnam: 11,661 H/3,850 PR; Sullivan County has 10,000 Hispanics/5,300 PR; Schenectady: 8,800 H/5,800 PR;  Chautauqua: 8,241 H/6,401 Puerto Ricans; and Montgomery: 5,654 H/4,330 PR.

Unlike the DOJ in the Orange County case, the OAG did not offer any findings of voter discrimination, intimidation, or other violation of the Voting Rights Act against Puerto Rican voters of limited-English proficiency. Neither does he claim nor prove that the Puerto Rican illiteracy rates in those counties are higher than the US illiteracy rate.

The census information used by the OAG only indicates ethnicity, not language spoken or English proficiency by citizens of voting age.

However, like the consent decree, Schneiderman’s notice requires the ten targeted county election boards to provide election materials in English and Spanish, and provide bilingual assistance at polling places in those counties for the upcoming general election.

The City of Schenectady already plans to have bilingual ballots, voter information and interpreters at twelve polling sites in time for the November election.

Schneiderman cleverly uses Puerto Rican voters as the wedge that props open the door for all Hispanic voters to enter and effectively end “English-only” elections in upstate New York.

See also: AG Schneiderman tells 10 NY counties to help bilingual voters — Could tip state senate

Do you think State Attorney General Schneiderman acted within his authority? 

About SquarePegDem

A former state legislator turned NY Post editorial board member, thought-leader, public affairs consultant and commentator, columnist and blogger. Michael has appeared on Al Jazeera America Tonight, NY1/Inside City Hall, FoxNews.com LIVE, YNN/Capital Tonight, The Brian Lehrer Show, The Fred Dicker Show, The Capitol Press Room, and The Daily Show. His op-eds have appeared in the NY Post, City and State, The Legislative Gazette, Bronx Times, The Troy Record, Buffalo News, and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. To schedule speaking engagements, email MBenjamin9@optimum.net.
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